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US Congress passes farm bill funding agriculture and sustainability programs

5-year authorization legalizes hemp, leaves pesticide issues hanging

by Britt E. Erickson
December 13, 2018

Credit: Shutterstock
Congress legalizes the production of industrial hemp in the latest five-year farm bill.

Lawmakers cleared a compromise version of the US farm bill on Dec. 12, setting the stage for the next five years of agriculture. The swift passage by both chambers of Congress, just one day after the bill was released, suggests that lawmakers feel intense pressure to ensure farmers receive subsidies as crop prices decline from the ongoing US-China trade dispute.

Although several pesticide-related provisions were included in earlier versions of the bill, they did not make it into the final package. Congress instead boosted funding for sustainability and organic farming and legalized the production of hemp.

Hemp is in the cannabis family, but unlike marijuana hemp does not contain enough tetrahydrocannabinol to produce psychoactive effects. The demand for hemp is growing because it contains cannabidiol, a chemical touted for numerous health benefits, including reducing inflammation and pain and suppressing anxiety.

The farm bill establishes funding for local and regional food production, crop diversity, and organic farming research. “The final deal addresses a growing need to scale up our nation’s farm-to-fork initiatives, invest in healthy food, support the next generation of farmers and other underserved producers, and continue making strides in organic agriculture research,” Juli Obudzinski, interim policy director at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, said in a statement.

Congress failed to reauthorize the Pesticide Registration Improvement Act (PRIA) in the farm bill because of a long-standing issue related to farmworker protections. PRIA allows the US Environmental Protection Agency to collect fees from pesticide manufacturers to support the agency’s review of the safety of new and existing pesticides. The current authorization will expire on Dec. 21.

Pesticide manufacturers are urging Congress to pass PRIA before the end of 2018 to provide certainty that EPA will have funds to review new pesticides in a timely fashion. Although they did not get everything they wanted, manufacturers are pleased with a measure in the final bill that aims to create a more efficient process for reviewing the effects of pesticides on endangered species.

“We look forward to working closely with Congress and all stakeholders to identify measures to better protect species and allow for a more predictable pesticide-registration process,” Beau Greenwood, executive vice president for government relations at the industry group CropLife America, said in a statement.



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