Dairy fight could hold up $1T farm, food stamp bill

A fight over dairy provisions is threatening to hold up completion of the farm bill this week. 
 
Negotiators late Wednesday were still aiming to hold a formal meeting of the 2014 farm bill conference committee on Thursday to wrap up the long-delayed $1 trillion subsidy and food stamp measure.
 
But a battle over dairy, pitting Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) against Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), the top Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, was complicating matters.
 
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Boehner and dairy-using industries oppose dairy production restrictions favored by Peterson and milk producers. On a Friday conference call, Boehner reiterated his opposition, sources said. 
 
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) said the two sides were still trying to find some way to deal with the dairy supply management issue.
 
“I would say that there’s been lots of discussion on how to address dairy, but really nothing’s changed,” he said. 
 
He said a farm bill meeting is “still a possibility, and I want to so bad you can’t imagine.”
 
Lucas said negotiators were still grappling with other regulations-related issues. They are likely to be addressed through amendment votes to a chairman’s mark during the conference meeting itself, sources predicted.
 
The chairman said that an amendment by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) to prevent states from banning products based on the means of production is still an issue. The King amendment is aimed at stopping California from banning eggs produced in tiny battery cages that activists call inhumane.
 
“The King language is still in the mix…there’s a number of issues that deal with regulatory relief and are important to members,” Lucas said. 
 
Sources say remaining outstanding issues involve country-of-origin labeling for meat, a duplicate catfish inspection program that has caused a trade flap with Vietnam, regulations on pesticide and payment limitations for crop insurance. 
 
They said that both sides have largely bridged the $35 billion difference in the House and Senate-passed farm bill on food stamp cuts. The compromise bill would cut about $9 billion from the program mostly by limiting the ability of people to automatically qualify for food stamps by virtue of getting heating aid.
 
Lucas said that he could not say the food stamp and commodity subsidies are entirely wrapped up, however.