The House Agriculture Committee is set to debate its Republican farm bill, starting at 11 a.m. EDT. The big question isn’t whether the committee will approve the bill. Republicans should have the votes on their side to do that. The question is how many Democratic votes Republicans can get.  

Democrats are bracing to lose maybe one or two, which would allow Republicans to say the bill has bipartisan support. Whether it would be enough to get House Speaker Mike Johnson to bring the bill to the floor is another question, especially with the funding gap that Chairman Glenn “GT” Thompson, R-Pa., still needs to fix. 

The debate could go late into the evening, depending how many amendments are offered.

Take note: With Democrats trying to stem their losses in committee, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack jumped into the debate on Wednesday. During a call with reporters, he repeatedly said Thompson was funding the bill with “counterfeit money,” referring to Thompson’s scoring dispute with the Congressional Budget Office. Thompson denounced Vilsack’s criticism as a partisan effort to divide the committee.

By the way: One of the Democrats that Thompson hoped to get was Rep. Angie Craig, and she acknowledged to Agri-Pulse’s Rebekah Alvey that she likes much of what’s in the legislation, which includes numerous marker bills that had bipartisan sponsorship.  “A lot of the marks in the bill that the chairman included are my policy priorities. I like the policy side of this, but the funding mechanism is problematic to actually getting a farm bill. That's just the reality of the situation,” Craig said.

As of Wednesday afternoon, Rep. Don Davis, D-N.C., was still keeping reporters guessing. “We are still working through all of the text to make the best decision that we can make tomorrow,” he said.

Health investigators struggle to get worker cooperation

Following the detection of bird flu in another worker at a dairy farm, a Centers for Disease Control official acknowledged the difficulty of getting cooperation from farmworkers to test for avian flu but also said some progress has been made on that front.

On a call with reporters Wednesday, Principal Deputy Director Nirav Shah said 40 workers at affected farms had been tested, and more are being monitored.

“In Michigan, although this number changes day to day … there are approximately 170 people that are enrolled in the active monitoring system …, a system that we've seen the benefits of in light of the detection of this particular case,” Shah said.

“That said, we'd like to be testing more people. And we've seen variable cooperation among farmworkers, as you would see with any slice of people in the general population. Some folks are more willing to chat with public health and be tested, even if it's just a nasal swab, others less likely.”

He said CDC has been working with farmworker groups to convey that “working with public health, particularly in these situations, is something that is innocuous and indeed has benefits for their colleagues as well.”

Read more in our story at

Lawmakers seek freeze in H-2A rates

A bipartisan group of 120 House members is calling on the Appropriations Committee to include a freeze on H-2A labor rates in the Labor Department’s fiscal 2025 sending bill.

In a letter to the Labor-HHS Appropriations Subcommittee, the lawmakers note that the average minimum wage rate for this year is $17.55 an hour, a 5% increase over 2023. They say producers in Canada pay about $11 per hour for fieldworkers, while some employers in Mexico even pay $1.50 per hour.

                Cut through the clutter! We deliver the news you need to stay informed about farm, food and rural issues. Sign up for a FREE month of Agri-Pulse here.

"If we do nothing, many of our constituents will be forced to shutter their businesses, despite good-faith efforts to ensure our national food security and feed families across our nation,” the lawmakers write.

Appropriators debate pilot restrictions for SNAP

Some Republicans on the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee used a hearing Wednesday to push for a pilot program that would restrict SNAP benefits for unhealthy foods, like sugar-sweetened beverages.

Subcommittee Chairman Andy Harris, R-Md., and witnesses at the hearing argued SNAP isn’t meeting its nutrition directive, and is focused on providing calories rather than healthy options. This has led to higher rates in diet-related disease risk and consumption of sugary foods and beverages, Harris said in his opening statement. 

To address this, Harris has been pushing for a pilot program that would restrict the use of benefits for less healthy foods. However, subcommittee Democrats and grocer representatives said this pilot or similar efforts to restrict foods for SNAP participants could increase food prices and may not be effective in addressing nutrition.

Food companies to pay for claims of misleading labels on beef 

Four related food companies will pay $395,000 over allegedly falsely labeled frozen ground beef patties that were distributed to federal prisons nationwide. 

While the labels were allegedly misleading and inaccurate, food quality and safety was unaffected, the U.S. Attorney’s Office found. The companies settled the matter, but did not admit liability, according to a press release. 

In early 2020, Prime Food Sales Inc., Prime Food Sales LLC, JTP Sales LLC and JW Sales & Distribution LLC allegedly violated a contract with the Federal Bureau of Prisons by falsely labeling 190,000 patties as less than six months old when they were actually older.

The investigation, led by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Justice Department Office of the Inspector General and the Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, is part of an effort to crack down on federal procurement fraud. 

He said it. “They tried every way in the world to get them on board. So we'll see." – Rep. Mike Bost, R-Ill., talking about the effort the House Ag Committee majority staff put into wooing Democratic votes for the farm bill.

Rebekah Alvey, Steve Davies and Noah Wicks contributed to this report.