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House votes to delay food safety rules

Posted: June 20, 2013 8:00 a.m.
Updated: June 20, 2013 8:00 a.m.
 

WASHINGTON (AP) — The House voted late Wednesday to delay sweeping food safety rules that would require farmers and food companies to be more vigilant about guarding against contamination.

Lawmakers adopted an amendment by voice vote to a wide-ranging farm bill just before midnight that would delay the rules signed into law in 2011 until the Food and Drug Administration conducts a study on their economic impacts.

The proposed rules would require farmers to take new precautions against contamination, to include making sure workers' hands are washed, irrigation water is clean, and that animals stay out of fields, among other measures.

The amendment was offered by Republican Rep. Dan Benishek of Michigan, who said the regulations would be burdensome to farmers in his district.

Earlier in the day, the House voted to cut food stamps by $2 billion a year as part of the farm measure.

The chamber rejected, 234-188, a Democratic amendment to the five-year, half-trillion-dollar farm legislation that would have maintained current spending on food stamps, now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. The overall bill cuts the $80 billion-a-year program by about 3 percent and makes it harder for some people to qualify.

The food stamp cuts have complicated passage of the bill and its farm-state supporters were working to secure votes Wednesday. Many conservatives have said the food stamp cuts do not go far enough since the program has doubled in cost in the last five years and now feeds 1 in 7 Americans. Liberals have argued against any reductions, contending the House plan could take as many as 2 million needy recipients off the rolls. The White House has threatened a veto over the food stamp cuts.

The amendment by Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., and other Democrats would have eliminated the SNAP cuts and taken the money from farm subsidies instead.

"It's too big, it's too harsh and it's going to hurt so many people," McGovern said of the food aid cuts.

Other amendments chipped away at the program. The House adopted by voice vote an amendment to require drug tests for SNAP recipients, angering Democrats, who said the tests would be demeaning to people who apply for the food aid. Lawmakers also adopted by voice vote an amendment that would end a 2004 U.S.-Mexico agreement to educate Mexican-Americans about food stamps. More amendments are expected to try and scale back the program.

Also complicating passage is growing Republican opposition to farm subsidies, some of which are expanded under the bill. Republicans have proposed amendments that would cut back dairy and sugar supports that could turn lawmakers from certain regions of the country against the bill if they were to succeed.

The House is scheduled to continue voting on 103 amendments to the bill Thursday, with a vote on passage possibly next week. As of Wednesday, it was unclear if Republicans had enough votes.

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