Also: Hot Foods, innovative FEED, tribal sovereignty and online loans

Joshua Baethge, Policy editor

December 11, 2023

4 Min Read
Farm policy roundup

There’s never a shortage of agriculture news. Here are a few policy stories you may have missed over the past week.

Bipartisan bill targets Paraguayan beef imports

Sens. Jon Tester, D- Mont., and Mike Rounds, R- S.D., introduced legislation to continue a ban on beef imports from Paraguay. The move comes in response to a recent Biden administration proposal that would lift the longstanding ban. Critics say Paraguay’s current testing process does not adequately protect the American food supply from threats like foot-and-mouth disease.

“Paraguay has failed to meet the standard put forward by Montana ranchers,” Tester says. “That’s why I’m leading bipartisan legislation to stand up to the Biden Administration and block beef imports from Paraguay until we have good, reliable data to show they can meet these same high standards as American ranchers.”

The U.S. Cattlemen’s Association, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and R-Calf have all endorsed the legislation.

Lawmakers demand Hot Foods Act

Nearly 100 Congressional lawmakers penned a letter to Senate and House Agriculture Committee leaders calling for the passage of the Hot Foods Act. The legislation introduced by Sen. Michale Bennett, D- Colo., would allow SNAP recipients to use their benefits to purchase heated foods, hot meals and cold prepared foods. Currently, recipients are only allowed to use SNAP funds for food items that can be prepared at home.

“Since its enactment 60 years ago, SNAP has prohibited the purchase of hot foods. While this restriction may have made sense in the 1970s, when most families were cooking their meals at home, it is no longer an accurate reflection of American families’ dietary or lifestyle needs,” lawmakers said in their letter. “Allowing the purchase of cold foods, but not their hot equivalents, disenfranchises vulnerable Americans who often rely on SNAP benefits for access to critical nutrition.”

According to government data, 70% of the nation’s 42 million SNAP participants are children, elderly or living with disabilities. Supporters of the Hot Foods Act say the bill would give those recipients needed flexibility to supplement their dietary needs.

USDA responds to tribal nation requests

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack unveiled new USDA initiatives to help tribal communities. The news came during a While House Tribal Nations Summit, where multiple tribal nation leaders met with President Biden and other executive branch officials.

USDA announced more than $68 million in investments through the Forest Service co-stewardships with tribes. The agency also named recipients for the first round of grant funding from the Indigenous Animals Harvesting and Meat Processing Grant Program.

Vilsack says the investments will create ecumenic opportunities in tribal communities while also increasing the availability of healthy protein sources from indigenous animals that tribal nations have depended on for generations.

“As tribes have requested, we are reshaping our programs to incorporate tribal and indigenous perspectives, remove barriers, and encourage tribal self-determination,” Vilsack says. “USDA is working directly with tribal nations to support their decisions on how best to co-steward federal lands and forests and the traditions that have been passed down from ancestors and elders,”

In addition to the funding, Vilsack also announced the first appointees to a new tribal advisory committee.

Lawmakers look to reduce FDA approval time

Reps. Angie Craig, D- Minn., Greg Pence, R-Ind., Jim Baird, R-Ind, and Kim Schrier, D- Wash, introduced a bill they say will cut red tape and speed up FDA’s approval time for feed additives. The Innovative FEED Act would establish a new category of animal feeds. It also includes language spelling out FDA’s approval process. Supporters say this will speed that process up.

“The agricultural industry is constantly evolving and improving to meet current demands – and it’s critical that the regulatory processes surrounding the industry do the same,” Craig says.

Multiple ag organizations are endorsing the legislation, including National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, the National Milk Producers Federation, the American Feed Industry Association, the National Green and Feed Association, the U.S. Poultry and Egg Association, the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives and the Agricultural Retailers Association.

Farmers may now submit loan applications online

USDA is now accepting online applications for direct loans. Agency officials say the virtual application process replicates the service customers would receive from an in-person appointment with FSA farm loan officer. Applicants who use the online service can also track the progress of their application.

Those interested in applying online must first establish a USDA customer account. The service is currently only available for those operating their farm as an individual. It is expected to be expanded next year to include married couples applying jointly as well as other entities.

“The Biden-Harris Administration is working hard to make it easier for farmers and ranchers to get the loans they need to keep growing food, fiber, and fuel for our country,” Deputy Agriculture Secretary Xochitl Torres Small says. “Online services are commonplace in commercial lending, and with USDA Farm Service Agency's new online loan application feature, it is now easier for producers to get the financing they need to start, expand, or maintain their farming and ranching operations.”

An average of 26,000 people per year submit direct loan applications.

About the Author(s)

Joshua Baethge

Policy editor, Farm Progress

Joshua Baethge covers a wide range of government issues affecting agriculture. Before joining Farm Progress, he spent 10 years as a news and feature reporter in Texas. During that time, he covered multiple state and local government entities, while also writing about real estate, nightlife, culture and whatever else was the news of the day.

Baethge earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of North Texas. In his free time, he enjoys going to concerts, discovering new restaurants, finding excuses to be outside and traveling as much as possible. He is based in the Dallas area where he lives with his wife and two kids.

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