Farm accord drops landmark chemical safeguards

October 18, 1990|By Knight-Ridder News Service

WASHINGTON -- House and Senate negotiators abandoned landmark environmental provisions when they ironed out their differences on the five-year 1990 farm bill approved just before dawn Tuesday.

Those so-called "circle of poison" features would have banned the export of any agricultural chemicals that the government had refused to sanction for use in this country or that had never been tested or reviewed for domestic use.

Under the House-Senate agreement, about $42 billion will be spent on farm programs over the next five years -- 25 percent less than proposed by the House and Senate earlier this year. The farm bill regulates the crops farmers plant, how much they are paid for them, their conservation practices and government-sponsored marketing programs.

The sharp cut in the bill's price tag was part of the government's effort to cut domestic spending to reduce the budget deficit. The biggest cut is a 15 percent reduction in the farmland that is eligible for subsidies. It is the first such decrease in the history of the farm program.

"I don't know if it will change the way farmers do business," said Representative E. "Kika" de la Garza, D-Texas, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee. "But it does mean that the farmer will have to be more in tune with the world outside his farm."

Economists and lawmakers are hoping the changes will encourage farmers to base planting decisions on global demand rather than government subsidies.

However, the changes will almost certainly mean less income for many farmers. And many of the bill's new provisions will make the farm bureaucracy more cumbersome and difficult, said farm groups.

"Farm programs will be more complex as a result of this bill . . . [there are] more complicated loan formulas, new loan origination fees for soybeans and the acreage flexibility provisions," said Dean Kleckner, president of the American Farm Bureau and an Iowa farmer.

Bush administration officials said none of the cuts was so severe that farmers would be forced out of the program. However, John Campbell, deputy undersecretary for commodities, conceded that with the lower subsidies and more complex rules, "the program has less of an incentive to be in it, but there's more flexibility if you are in it."

The bill received mixed reviews from environmentalists and lawmakers alike. The Bush administration lent support to non-controversial provisions, such as calling for the planting of 1 million trees. But it opposed what environmentalists called the most important proposal -- the ban on exports of potentially dangerous pesticides and herbicides.

The House and Senate both supported the ban but retreated after weeks of heavy lobbying by such agri-chemical companies as Monsanto, Dow and Du Pont.

"As a result, pesticides banned or never registered for use in the United States will continue to be manufactured here, used on crops overseas and return to consumers in the form of residues on imported foods," said Sandra Marquardt, coordinator of Pesticide Information for Greenpeace, an environmental group.

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