WIUM Tristates Public Radio

The Proposed Spending Bill's Impact on Ag

Dec 17, 2014

Congress' $1.1-trillion spending bill is on the way to President Obama's desk.

Among other impacts on America's food and farming system, the bill would keep school cafeteria fries salty and limit the government's ability to monitor cow belches.

Some South American researchers are developing fart backpacks to capture cow gas and turn it into green energy.
Credit Flickr

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, livestock manure and a digestive process called enteric fermentation account for about five percent of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions.  Most of that comes from cattle belching methane.

Despite being a small fraction of greenhouse gas emissions when compared to electricity production and consumption (38%) and the transportation sector (32%), the government wanted to track just how much methane cows are responsible for emitting into the atmosphere.

Frank Mitloehner, a professor and air quality specialist in the animal sciences department at the University of California, Davis, said the government would have been acting prematurely because farmers and ranchers simply don’t have the tools yet to monitor their emissions.

"This is like me asking you to quantify your carbon footprint for your household," Mitloehner said. "You would not know how to do that. You would not know how to quantify your vehicle related emissions or the emissions related to cooling your food or clothing your body."

Mitloehner and other researchers are in the process of developing a sort of livestock greenhouse gas calculator to help ranchers track their emissions. They’re also researching methods to curb livestock gasses through a change in diet and better manure management practices, while some South American researchers are developing fart backpacks to capture cow gas and turn it into green energy.

Congress's spending bill would also cool down some components of Michelle Obama's "passion project."

Provisions in the bill would give school food directors more flexibility in adopting whole grain items and more time to reduce the amount of sodium in cafeteria food, rules mandated by the 2012 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.

NPR's The Salt reports:

"The School Nutrition Association, which represents 55,000 school cafeteria professionals around the country, released a statement supporting these "flexibility" measures […] The SNA says that since the nutrition standards mandated by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act took effect in 2012, school lunch programs have lost at least 1 million student customers."

The budget bill does not exempt schools from regulations if they're losing money.

In addition, the bill would require the USDA to inform Congress no later than May 1 about how to change the nation's controversial meat labeling laws.

As previously reported by Harvest Public Media, US Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) laws are not compliant with World Trade Organization (WTO) standards and must be fixed.

The US is currently appealing the WTO's fourth ruling against it's current laws, but is unlikely to succeed.

The spending bill would also prevent the USDA from closing 250 offices and it would cut nearly $150 million in funding to programs designed to make farming more sustainable and safer for the environment.

Click here for the government's summary of all the ways the 2015 Omnibus Appropriations Bill impacts food and farming.