The House Agriculture Committee approved a plan Wednesday to cut U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) programs by $35.1 billion over the next 10 years, with almost half the reductions coming from food and nutrition programs.  The markup of the 2012 farm bill took 13 hours and was approved by a 35-11 vote.

The committee adopted, by a voice vote, an amendment sponsored by Reps. Mike Conaway  (R-TX) and Jim Costa (D-CA) that will limit USDA’s Grain Inspection and Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) from doing any further work on the rule enacted in the 2008 farm bill but went beyond what Congress mandated.  Rep. Costa said the amendment is an attempt to address the over-reach of USDA, but Ranking Member Collin Peterson  (D-MN) said the action was “opening up a can of worms.”  Peterson noted that the Senate would not take up the amendment language, “whatever happens.”

The Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act (FARRM)  will lower spending on programs that encourage soil and water conservation by $6 billion over 10 years, largely by reducing acreage in the Conservation Reserve Program gradually reducing the program to 25 million acres.  And the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) will maintain its current funding. EQIP provides cost share incentives to producers to meet or avoid the need for national, state, or local regulation.

The committee also adopted a 90-day deadline for USDA to report details of the steps it will take to ensure the United States is in compliance with the decision for the World Trade Organization (WTO) regarding mandatory country of origin labeling (MCOOL).  Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-TX) offered the amendment, and it was accepted on a 34 to 12 vote.  USDA is required to turn in a report on MCOOL compliance progress 90 days after the date of enactment.  Rep. David Scott (D-GA) said the deadline will give beef and pork producers “some peace of mind to know that USDA is working to protect them from retaliation from Canada and Mexico.”  Rep. Collin Peterson called the measure “unnecessary.”

Reps. Tom Rooney (R-FL) and Dennis Cardoza (D-CA)  offered an amendment that would establish an Under Secretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs. The amendment cited facts that exports are vitally important to he U.S. economy and that the agricultural sector has been and continues to be a major contributor of the nation’s overall level of exports and is one of the only few sectors of the economy that traditionally has had a positive net trade balance.  The amendment passed by a unanimous voice vote.

The committee rejected an amendment by Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-MO) that would have repealed a provision in the 2008 farm bill that moved catfish inspection from the Food and Drug Administration to USDA.  The Senate included the provision by a unanimous vote, but it has been vigorously opposed in U.S. catfish-producing areas. The committee also adopted an amendment by Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) that would make it a federal offense to attend an animal fight or cause a minor to attend an animal fight.  The Senate also included the amendment.

Lawmakers in both the House and Senate are trying to get a new farm bill passed before the current legislation expires on September 30. It is unclear at this point whether or not there will be enough legislative time on the calendar to take up the measure before the summer recess begins August 3.  There are only 15 legislative days before the bill expires.