President Trump signed the long-awaited Farm Bill, which Congress passed earlier this month, into law at a ceremony at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on Dec. 20, and many industry associations are celebrating.
“The 2018 Farm Bill is a major victory for fresh produce. Despite differences between the House and Senate, Congress has once again shown that when legislation is dealt with in a bipartisan manner, the American people will benefit. We would like to thank the Chairs and Ranking Members of the House and Senate Agricultural Committee for their leadership in passing a Farm Bill that is good for both the fresh produce industry and consumers,” said Guenther.
NGA celebrates wins for ‘main street’ grocers
Following the signing of the bill, National Grocers Association (NGA) President and CEO Peter Larkin released the following statement: “Today, President Trump signed a Farm Bill into law that strengthens the SNAP public-private partnership between the federal government and independent supermarket operators and provides certainty for the various stakeholders within the food supply chain. Independent grocers are the backbone of their community and are essential in the SNAP food delivery system. We appreciate the leadership of Senate and House Agriculture Chairmen Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Mike Conaway (R-TX) and Ranking Members Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Collin Peterson (D-MN) for their efforts throughout this process.”
Law to benefit producers, too
“This is a great day for our farmers, ranchers, foresters, and producers, as President Trump’s signature on this bill is a Christmas present to American agriculture,” said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. “Farmers take financial risks every year as a matter of doing business, so having a Farm Bill in place gives them peace of mind to make their decisions for the future. Since early talks on this Farm Bill began back in 2017, I’ve always believed it would be more evolutionary, rather than revolutionary, and that has borne out to be true.
“The bill bolsters farm safety net programs, protects federal crop insurance, and maintains strong rural development and research initiatives. The legislation reinvents the Margin Protection Program for dairy producers, providing a boost to coverage levels and a reduction in premiums after the program fell short in the 2014 Farm Bill. The bill also includes a new Animal Disease Prevention and Management program, providing annual funding for three animal health programs. This includes a new vaccine bank focused on foot-and-mouth disease and extended funding of the National Animal Health Laboratory Network to protect our borders and improve food safety.”
“This is a success for agriculture to have this legislation passed before the end of the year,” said Davie Stephens, president of the American Soybean Association and a Kentucky soy grower. “We appreciate the level of assurance the bill provides and will now be able to better focus on working with the Administration and Congress on other issues affecting the competitiveness and profitability of U.S. beans.”
Hemp farming legalized
The Farm Bill includes a section titled “Hemp Production,” which removes hemp from the Controlled Substances Act, places full federal regulatory authority of hemp with the USDA, and allows state departments of agriculture to file hemp program plans and regulate hemp cultivation per their state specific programs.
“This new law changes certain federal authorities relating to the production and marketing of hemp, defined as cannabis (Cannabis sativa L.), and derivatives of cannabis with extremely low (less than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis) concentrations of the psychoactive compound delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC),” said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D., in a statement. “These changes include removing hemp from the Controlled Substances Act, which means that it will no longer be an illegal substance under federal law.”
Gottlieb, however, stressed that what the law didn’t change:
“Congress explicitly preserved the agency’s current authority to regulate products containing cannabis or cannabis-derived compounds under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act) and section 351 of the Public Health Service Act. In doing so, Congress recognized the agency’s important public health role with respect to all the products it regulates. This allows the FDA to continue enforcing the law to protect patients and the public while also providing potential regulatory pathways for products containing cannabis and cannabis-derived compounds.
“We treat products containing cannabis or cannabis-derived compounds as we do any other FDA-regulated products—meaning they’re subject to the same authorities and requirements as FDA-regulated products containing any other substance. This is true regardless of the source of the substance, including whether the substance is derived from a plant that is classified as hemp under the Agriculture Improvement Act.”
The FDA requires a cannabis product (hemp-derived or otherwise) that is marketed with a claim of therapeutic benefit, or with any other disease claim, to be approved by the FDA for its intended use before it may be introduced into interstate commerce. Additionally, it’s unlawful under the FD&C Act to introduce food containing added CBD or THC into interstate commerce, or to market CBD or THC products as, or in, dietary supplements, regardless of whether the substances are hemp-derived.
To help members of the public understand how the FDA’s requirements apply to these products, the FDA has a webpage with answers to frequently asked questions, which will be updated to address questions regarding the Farm Bill.
Hemp industry pleased
Vote Hemp, a grassroots hemp advocacy organization that has been working to change state and federal laws to allow commercial hemp farming, says it is “thrilled” with these changes.
“This bill constitutes a momentous victory for the movement in support of hemp farming, and will have far-reaching positive impacts on rural economies and farming communities, increase availability of sustainable products for American consumers, and create new businesses and jobs in the hemp industry,” said Eric Steenstra, president of Vote Hemp. “Now that we have lifted federal prohibition on hemp farming, it’s time to invest our energy in expanding hemp cultivation and the market for hemp products across the country so that all can reap the benefits of this of this versatile, historic American crop.”
The bill asserts a “whole plant” definition of hemp, including plant extracts, and removes roadblocks to the growing hemp industry in the U.S., notably by authorizing and encouraging access to federal research funding for hemp, and removing restrictions on banking, water rights, and other regulatory roadblocks the hemp industry currently faces.
The bill also explicitly authorizes crop insurance for hemp.
“This monumental progress toward returning hemp to American farmlands is in large part the result of Vote Hemp’s dedication and tenacious, strategic advocacy over the last 19 years,” said David Bronner, cosmic engagement officer (CEO) of Dr. Bronner’s, a brand of natural soaps that uses hemp seed oil in its products. “Dr. Bronner’s has advocated for the legalization of hemp farming since we added hemp seed oil to our products in 1999, and fought and beat the DEA during the Hemp Food Rules Challenge from 2001 to 2004. As a maker of hemp products, we are eager to source the 20 tons of hemp seed oil we use annually from American farmers.”
“The passing of the Farm Bill is transformational for the industry allowing for the national cultivation, production, distribution and marketing of hemp-derived products in the United States,” adds Hess Moallem, president and CEO of Charlotte’s Web, a producer of whole-plant hemp extract products with naturally occurring CBD. “The Farm Bill provides the added legal clarity necessary to expand our distribution reach. Hemp’s removal from the CSA has been a core legal requirement for many national retailers wanting to carry whole-plant hemp extracts. Removing the social stigma linked with being a “controlled substance” and having the ability to attain organic certification under the USDA will help to grow consumer acceptance.
Brian Moyer, CEO of Criticality, a North Carolina-based agricultural hemp company, also voiced his approval. “Criticality welcomes the signing of the 2018 Farm Bill and the incredible opportunity it provides to farmers and producers of agricultural hemp products. By providing clarity to federal agencies and federally-regulated institutions, farmers and companies like Criticality will be able to develop critical business relationships and expand to meet growing commercial demand for hemp and hemp-derived products. To date, we’ve been operating under North Carolina’s industrial hemp pilot program. The newly enacted Farm Bill not only makes hemp a legal agricultural commodity, but it brings opportunity for growth, transparency and acceptance among the general public of hemp and hemp-derived products.”
SNAP work requirements change
To “reinforce the intent” of the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008 and meet President Trump’s goals on welfare reform, the USDA has released a proposed rule to limit state waivers on SNAP eligibility.
Plans to strengthen the work requirements for SNAP assistance eligibility are being applauded by members of the Project 21 black leadership network.
“People should not be able to become professional entitlement beneficiaries, especially during times of low unemployment. President Trump and the U.S. Department of Agriculture should be commended for wanting to make sure our tax dollars are spent wisely,” said Project 21 member Emery McClendon. “Our government has programs in place to help citizens who fall on hard times. Programs such as SNAP are intended to be temporary. It would greatly enhance those who are enrolled in these programs as well as the communities in which they live if there were work or training requirements linked to continued assistance.”
While SNAP requires able-bodied individuals to work 80 hours a month or participate in a job training program to maintain eligibility for benefits, states have been allowed to obtain waivers for extended periods based on local unemployment rates. The proposed rule seeks to curtail “widespread use” of waivers that the Trump Administration believes were meant for temporary relief in an economic downturn.
Not everyone is celebrating these changes.
In response to the proposed rule change announcement, Abby J. Leibman, president and CEO of Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger, issued a statement that reads, in part:
“The President has demonstrated yet again his lack of respect for the rule of law and the legislative branch. Just as he’s signing one of the most important bipartisan pieces of legislation to come out of this Congress, he is circumventing Congressional intent through this executive action.
“Work requirements were a source of intense negotiation during the Farm Bill reauthorization process, but the end result brought Republicans and Democrats together in support of a measured compromise bill that protected the structure and funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and reflected the will of Congress. Now, with this move, President Trump is undermining the entire process in a way that will hurt millions of Americans who struggle to feed themselves and their families. This is nothing short of a subversion of democracy.”
According to Mazon, rescinding state waivers could cause vulnerable populations to lose access to SNAP, including recent veterans, those who work inconsistent hours, lack transportation, live in areas where the economy has been slow to recover or who aren’t able to access employment and training programs.
USDA issues federal GMO labeling rule
Also on Dec. 20, the USDA released its final federal GMO labeling rule. This long awaited and controversial labeling rule will go into effect as early as 2020.
In response, Dana Perls, senior food and agriculture campaigner at Friends of the Earth U.S., an environmental organization, issued the following statement in response:
“USDA’s new labeling rules are a disaster, with huge loopholes that could keep consumers in the dark as new GMOs rapidly enter our food supply. The USDA will allow some of the most common highly processed GMOs to escape labeling, and other GMO ingredients that don’t contain detectable DNA, may be exempt. The rules are unclear if food produced with new genetic engineering techniques like gene editing will be exempt. All products made with genetic engineering, including ones made with gene-editing tools like CRISPR, should be regulated, assessed for health and environmental impacts and be clearly labeled.”
Purina applauds PAWS Act provision
The Farm Bill marks an important milestone in efforts made by Purina and others to reshape the way domestic violence victims and their pets are cared for in the U.S., says the national pet food brand. The newly enacted PAWS Act, included in the bill, received bi-partisan Congressional support and will serve to bridge gaps in services to make more domestic violence shelters pet friendly and provide safe accommodations for victim’s pets through new grants.
“Passage of the PAWS Act serves as an important recognition by Congress of the incredible bond we share with our pets and the need to keep pets and people together, especially in times of crisis,” said Nina Leigh Krueger, president of Purina. “This bi-partisan legislation builds on a foundation set by organizations across the U.S. that have long advocated for more resources to care for all the victims of domestic violence, including those with four paws.”
Research suggests that nearly half of domestic violence victims remain in abusive situations out of fear for their pets’ safety while only three percent of domestic violence shelters in the US allow pets, making the lack of access to pet-friendly domestic violence services a barrier to escaping abuse. As part of the PAWS Act Coalition, Purina has been working alongside other for-profit and nonprofit organizations to advocate for more and better protections and services for domestic violence victims and their pets.