Republican control of the House of Representatives is likely to have a major
impact on agriculture policy as 15 out of 28 Democrats lost their seats on the
House Agriculture Committee on election night, according to Robert
Guenther, senior vice president of public policy for the United Fresh Produce
The Nov. 2 election means that House leadership begins the task of picking
new chairmen for every House committee, which may not be sorted out until
February. There was a net gain of 60 seats for Republicans in Congress, and
100 new members will join the ranks on Capitol Hill for the first time.
Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK) is likely to become chairman of the powerful House
Agriculture Committee and become more aggressive in overseeing programs
at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency. The new voices in the halls of Congress will put more pressure on
Congress to reduced spending on all programs, including agriculture, sources
Unlike Chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN), Rep. Lucas has been quoted as
saying that he does not favor tackling the 2012 farm bill next year. "I don't
think slowing down the farm bill is necessarily a bad thing," Mr. Guenther told
The Produce News, predicting that pressure to cut spending under the new
Congress will be focused on commodity crops. "We have a better argument
not for subsidies but to invest in specialty crops" to make businesses grow, he
Democrats such as Jim Marshall (D-GA), Earl Pomeroy (D-NC) and Frank
Kratovil (D-MD) lost their seats on the House Agriculture Committee. Results
from Rep. Jim Costa's (D-CA) re-election bid had yet to be settled as of
Wednesday, Nov. 3.
On the Senate side, Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) was defeated, and her
successor as chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee could be either
Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) or Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND). If Sen. Stabenow
ascends to the post, "That's an important step up for us," Mr. Guenther said,
referring to the Michigan senator's leadership on specialty crop issues.
The election may not have a direct impact on food-safety legislation.
Food-safety legislation is still in the hands of the current Congress during
the lame duck session, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has
pledged to schedule a cloture vote Nov. 17 to move the bill to the Senate
floor. Still, the path for final food-safety legislation is anything but certain,
and United Fresh said that it will pull support for any bill that includes an
amendment to exempt small producers from the produce safety
In the meantime, United said that it will begin reaching out to new members
in the coming days to poll their views on immigration reform, nutrition, food
safety and agricultural policy.