When the Democrats took control of Congress, a colleague of mine looked at me with a sigh of relief and said, “Isn’t it great that we won’t have to be playing defense against bad policy anymore?” If only that first impression were the case.

In a democracy, we shouldn’t have to be constantly vigilant for bad legislative ideas that could hurt the public good. Our legislators are supposed to be the filter that guards against schemes that would strip rights and take choices away from people. Unfortunately, it seems to be the same politics, with the same money trails.

JMG’s post yesterday touches on a topic I have been thinking a lot about, and I want to address it in more detail.

On the House Agriculture Committee website, summaries of all of the parts of the legislation being offered are posted. Under the Subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry there is a Title I Section-by-Section analysis. Section 123 is particularly problematic:

SEC. 123. EFFECT OF USDA INSPECTION AND DETERMINATION OF NON-REGULATED STATUS.
* Prevents a State or locality from prohibiting an article the Secretary of Agriculture has inspected and passed, or an article the Secretary has determined to be of nonregulated status.

What does this mean? Also known as “preemption language,” this broad statement basically says that if the USDA says something is safe, a state or local government is not allowed to regulate it. For example, there have been a number of counties around the country that have banned genetically modified organisms from being produced within their borders. This preemption-style language, if it’s passed in the Farm Bill, would void those local laws.

State or local governments would no longer be able to issue their own recalls for USDA-inspected meat if the state is concerned it could be tainted. They wouldn’t be allowed to regulate hormones or antibiotics given to livestock. There could be hundreds of laws impacted with this language, which takes local control away from the people and gives it to the USDA.

This language is reportedly supported by Chairman Peterson and is being pushed by his agribusiness buddies. It makes it easier for them to manipulate government policy to the advantage of big agribusiness if they don’t have to fight on many small fronts. Bottom line, though, is that this provision, if passed, is bad for people and their ability to have a say in their own municipality, county, state, or region.

There are a number of industries that have tried this preemption-style language, and while I’m not following all of them, I know many of the attempts at stripping local control have not been entirely successful. We need to make sure this language is struck from the Farm Bill, even though it’s supported by the Chairman of the Agriculture Committee.

Contrary to what we may have thought, we’re still playing legislative defense. The Farm Bill needs to be a democratic process, with an emphasis on transparency and accountability.