The 2015 Final Annual Appropriations Bill passed by Congress late last week held more losses than wins for sustainable agriculture. The losses suffered by the sustainable agriculture community were deep and, in some cases, reversed progress gained over more than two decades of advocacy. Those gains had been made by outspoken farmers like Craig Watts, who took great personal risk to shed light on broken aspects of our agricultural system. The bill, also known as the “Cromnibus,” gets its name by combining CR, which stands for “Continuing Resolution” and is what Congress passes to temporarily continue the previous year’s spending levels, and omnibus, the term given to the process typically used for appropriations bills. The bill stands as yet another example of a dysfunctional Congress, which has made these unusual legislative measures the norm. Contract Fairness The most outright shocking and direct attack made on farmers came in the form of a rider blocking USDA’s ability to finalize and enforce regulations designed to protect livestock producers from abuse by the companies with which they contract. Inclusion of the rider leaves farmers largely unprotected from industry abuse. A regulatory issue such as this is normally a part of the farm bill process, and the use of such riders in the appropriations process is considered a duplicitous legislative tactic. These rules were first required by the 2008 Farm Bill, proposed by USDA in 2010, and upheld in the 2014 Farm Bill. The Cromnibus bill rider:
- Prohibits the U.S. Department of Agriculture from finalizing a long list of livestock and poultry farmer protection regulations that had been proposed in 2010; and
- Forces USDA to withdraw existing poultry farmer protections that have been in place since 2011.
- Prevent industry retaliation against a farmer who speaks to her Member of Congress about unfair treatment,
- Increase transparency of farmer pay calculations, and
- Require disclosure of sample contracts.