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Archive for Thursday, October 19, 2000

Ag bill includes food sales to Cuba

October 19, 2000

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— The Senate gave final congressional approval Wednesday to a bill modestly easing the trade embargo on Cuba and providing $3.6 billion in disaster assistance and other election-year aid to farmers.

President Clinton has agreed to sign the $78 billion agricultural spending bill, which also will allow the import of U.S.-made prescription drugs that are sold more cheaply abroad.

The bill, which the Senate approved 86-8, would allow sales of food to Cuba for the first time in four decades, but the move is largely symbolic, because it bars the federal government or U.S. banks from financing the shipments.

Farm groups that are eager to trade with Cuba say the legislation is a start.

Democrats called the Cuba measure a "step backward," both because of the financial limits and because it would bar President Clinton or his successor from easing restrictions on travel to Cuba.

"The hard-liners won out on the Cuba issue," said Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D. "Why should farmers not have access to that market in Cuba."

Republican Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas conceded that the bill was unlikely to result in many sales. The legislation also aims to increase sales of food and medicine to Iran, Libya, North Korea and Sudan by allowing U.S. subsidies for such exports.

Among the provisions of the agriculture spending bill:

Some $2 billion in aid to farmers who have lost crops or pasture to drought this year. The bill also provides subsidies to honey producers, whose government price-support program was phased out in the 1990s. There also is money for growers of a variety of other commodities, including apples and cranberries

Egg farms will undergo mandatory testing for salmonella bacteria about once a year under a plan worked out by consumer groups, producers and government regulators. The plan will establish the first nationwide pathogen testing standards for egg producers.

Up to 900,000 additional families may qualify for food stamps because of looser eligibility restrictions aimed at signing up more low-income working families. Participation in the food stamp program has fallen by a third since 1996.

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