Federal Rules Help Farmers, But Farm Lobbyists Want to Block Them

Farm lobbyists often complain that farmers face overregulation. In fact, farmers are largely exempt from most environmental and public health regulations, including rules designed to protect drinking water.

But farmers are subject to some regulations – most of them designed help farmers, not tie them up in red tape. So it’s puzzling that some farm lobbyists are supporting laws that would make it virtually impossible for agencies to ever issue new rules again.

Here are just a few examples of U.S. Department of Agriculture rules that help farmers:

  • The very first chapter of USDA rules and regulations sets grading standards for farm commodities – standards that make it easier for farmers to sell their products to big buyers like grocery stores. The same chapter of USDA regulations establishes the organic standard that allows farmers to earn a premium for their crops – and has helped build a $43 billion industry.
  • The third chapter of USDA rules and regulations ensures that the department is keeping agricultural pests and diseases off farms. A subchapter creates the rules governing the introduction of genetically modified crops – rules that ensure that GMOs can reach the market without posing a risk to farmers producing conventional crops.
  • The fourth chapter of USDA rules and regulations provides farmers of more than 140 different crops with $7 billion in annual crop insurance subsidies, which cover everything from corn to chili peppers to clams (yes, clams). Two other chapters of rules and regulations help provide other subsidies to farmers, including farm loans that allow farmers to purchase equipment, seeds and farm chemicals. The annual ethanol mandate that boosts the price of corn must be set by an annual rule.

The list goes on.

When the USDA purchases surplus commodities to boost farm prices, the agency has to follow rules. Other chapters of the USDA’s rules and regulations allow farmers to adopt marketing orders to limit supply, and thereby raise the prices of their crops. For example, milk marketing orders set a floor for milk prices. The USDA recently issued rules designed to help poultry producers earn a fair price.

Chapter 15 of the USDA’s rules and regulations creates the Foreign Agricultural Service, which helps promote exports of farm products and manages limits on imports that might compete with U.S. farm products.

What’s more, the USDA is not the only federal agency that adopts rules designed to help farmers. For example, Department of Labor rules also help protect farmers from injuries, and govern the wages and conditions of farm workers. Environmental Protection Agency rules ensure that farmers have access to pesticides – and that the pesticides they spray won’t give them cancer.

But legislation that has passed the House and is moving quickly through the Senate would effectively block agencies like the USDA from issuing new rules and regulation.

The so-called Regulatory Accountability Act, or RAA, would create an gauntlet of endless studies and judicial and congressional reviews that no agency could successfully navigate.

Why would farmers want to block USDA rules that set standards for their products, provide farm subsidies and loans, help limit supplies to keep prices high, open export markets, and pave the way for new pesticides and GMOs?

They wouldn’t. But that’s exactly what will happen if the Congress passes the RAA.

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