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Public Statements

Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2012

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. WYDEN. Mr. President, I am very pleased that the Senate today passed the Farm bill. This is bipartisan legislation that is critical to all Americans--from the farmers who grow our food, to the consumers who purchase that food, to kids who get school lunches, and to the neediest in our Nation who deserve access to adequate nutrition. I especially want to commend Senator Stabenow and Senator Roberts for their yeoman bipartisan work to craft this important legislation.

As Senator Stabenow has so eloquently put it time and again, this bill is a jobs bill. One in every 12 American jobs is tied to agriculture and this legislation represents an opportunity to create more jobs.

In my home State of Oregon, agriculture is now more than a $5 billion a year industry and it reflects a wide array of crops, mirroring the diversity in America's agriculture.

As I like to say, Oregonians do a lot of thing well, but what we do best is grow things and add value to those things. This bill has a lot in it to help Oregonians do that even better and in turn create more opportunities to sell those products better locally, nationally and abroad.

I was particularly pleased to have been successful in adding two amendments to the Farm bill. These are amendments to make it easier to provide healthier foods for children in schools and to help address the problem of hunger in our country.

One of my amendments would for the first time test out direct farm-to-school approaches to provide healthier foods for children in our schools. It will do this through a competitive pilot program with at least five farm-to-school demonstration projects in all regions in the country.

While there are currently some farm to school programs in place, it's a patchwork system and, according to the Agriculture Department's own Economic Research Service, ``data and analysis of farm to school programs are scare.'' This pilot program will fill in the information void about what works and what doesn't, and it will provide a way to improve and replace ineffective programs.

What is more, under these demonstration projects, innovative States and school districts will truly be able source fresh, high-quality local produce for our schoolchildren to enjoy. No more having to purchase faraway food from a Federal warehouse hundreds of miles away when there is healthy food just down the road.

Under my amendment, schools win. Farmers win. And most importantly, our children get to enjoy the delicious, local produce that they should be able to enjoy--every day--for breakfast, or for lunch, or for a snack. That is why the American Academy of Pediatrics the Nation's pediatricians supported my no cost farm-to-school amendment.

With the adoption of this amendment, it will be easier for delicious pears, cherries, and other healthy produce, grown just a few miles down the road, to make it into our schools.

Schools and school food authorities from all over the country with innovative ideas can now begin drawing up novel plans of action to purchase fresh, local produce for their kids.

New ideas will come forth, and the existing farm-to-school infrastructure will improve as new and better distribution models begin to emerge.

I am heartened that the farm-to-school movement has truly become national in scope, as more people recognize both the health and economic benefits that derive from these efforts. My amendment will make this movement not only bigger but better.

I thank Senator Stabenow and her staff for working with me on this amendment and helping me get this passed.

Fewer folks will be hungry thanks to the Senate's passage of my microloan for gleaners amendment.

These gleaners are mostly volunteers who collect food from grocery stores, restaurants, and farms--food that would otherwise be wasted--and distribute it to agencies or nonprofit organizations that feed it to the hungry.

These good Samaritans who save food from being tossed into landfills or burned in incinerators will finally be able to access the capital they deserve to expand and improve their operations.

At a time when food waste is the single largest category of waste in our local landfills--more than 34 million tons of food, even a portion of that wasted food could feed a lot of people. By redistributing food that would otherwise go to waste to the hungry--again, without spending extra taxpayer money--we can do more to ensure that this unwanted food is used to tackle hunger in America.

Instead of burning this food in incinerators, gleaners can help more people in need burn this food as calories.

This is just one more step in the right direction to help alleviate food insecurity in our country.

I again thank Senator Stabenow and her staff for their assistance in getting this amendment passed. It will provide real help to a group of selfless folks that are trying to bring some commonsense solutions to the hunger crisis.

As happy as I was to get the Farm Bill passed and get these amendments included, an opportunity to encourage healthier eating by recipients of SNAP benefits--what was previously known as food stamps--was unfortunately not able to come up for a vote.

This is disappointing. Not disappointing for me, but for the millions of SNAP beneficiaries, public health officials, and others who know we can do better to encourage healthier eating and increase consumption of healthy fruits and vegetables.

The existing waiver authority for SNAP is extremely restrictive and has resulted in a number of innovative State proposals being denied. It makes no sense to continue to stifle innovation and progress when it comes to incentivizing beneficiaries to eat healthier.

I will continue to push for ways to promote healthier eating through the SNAP program, given that it will improve public health, increase the consumption of healthy food, boost local farmers' incomes, and give taxpayers the confidence that their tax dollars are being spent on food that is really food.

I was also very disappointed that my amendment to legalize industrial hemp was also not granted a vote.

I firmly believe that American farmers should not be denied an opportunity to grow and sell a legitimate crop simply because it resembles an illegal one.

I fought for an amendment that would have recognized industrial hemp as a legitimate crop, but since doing so requires amending the Controlled Substances Act it was considered non-germane to the current debate and could not be brought up for a vote.

However, just my raising this issue has sparked a growing awareness of exactly how ridiculous the U.S.'s ban on industrial hemp is and I feel that important progress was made in advancing this dialogue.

I am confident that if grassroots support continues to grow and Members of Congress continue to hear from voters, then commonsense hemp legislation can move through Congress in the near future.

I plan to continue to keep fighting for this and hope to reintroduce this as a stand-alone bill.

I also want to raise concerns with language that was passed in the bill that amended the Healthy Forests Restoration Act. It is my hope that this issue will still be addressed in conference. I understand Senator Bennet made remarks expressing that same desire.

The language in the forestry title of the Farm bill amended an Act which I played a key role in helping pass originally in the Senate a decade ago.

As part of efforts to pass that legislation, which streamlined National Environmental Policy Act requirements, as well as appeals and judicial review, a carefully balanced compromise was reached. Environmental protections and clear limitations for appropriate places for the use of that authority were enacted as part of that legislation.

The language in the Farm Bill creates a sweeping new authority to use the Healthy Forest Restoration Act for areas potentially threatened with insect or disease infestations but fails to include any of the environmental protections or clear limitations in the original legislation. Additional, the way those areas that are threatened by insects and disease are defined is very broad.

I worked very hard with several of my colleagues to try to reach a compromise. It is my hope that given a little more time, we will be able to reach a compromise before a final Farm Bill becomes law.

I hope we will have a chance to perfect this language to address these concerns as the bill goes to conference.

Lastly, I want to touch the labeling of genetically modified foods.

I have always believed that consumers benefit from having more information about the food they consume, and that is why I supported an amendment offered by Senator Sanders regarding the labeling of such foods. However, I continue to believe that the most realistic way to improve consumer information about genetically modified foods is to take a national approach and I will continue to work towards that goal. That is why I cosponsored Senator Begich's legislation to ensure that genetically modified fish are labeled.

In sum, I again want to reiterate my strong support for the Farm Bill passed in the Senate and my great pleasure at having successfully gotten two amendments into this bill.

I raised several additional issues and it is my hope that there will be continued opportunities to address these issues going forward.

I yield the floor.


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