Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in the United States and abroad

Humane reforms at risk in farm bill

Several years ago, Colorado's legislature became the first in the nation to ban two types of factory farm cages -- for breeding sows and veal calves -- that were justly viewed as cruel.

Now that law could be in jeopardy, says the Humane Society of the United States, because of language in the House version of the farm bill that says a state cannot impose "a standard or condition on the production or manufacture of any agricultural product sold or offered for sale in interstate commerce."

The author of the language, Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, disputes that interpretation. He says he's merely trying to stop individual states from imposing their agricultural standards on other states and thus interfering with interstate commerce.

And King's primary target unquestionably is California's law barring the import of eggs from states whose egg-laying hens are housed in cages so small they can't spread their wings. Iowa, you see, is a major egg producer.

But even if King's goal is no more ambitious than he says, the House language is so broad that it would appear to override many laws meant to ensure food safety and protect the welfare of local citizens.

What about statutes imposing labeling requirements on agriculture products, for example?

Even a state policy as basic as the prohibition of the sale of raw milk could potentially be at risk under King's language.

Maybe that's why the National Conference of State Legislators, among other groups, has come out against the language, too.

The president of the Humane Society, Wayne Pacelle, worries that we "are all going to be held to the least common denominator in terms of food safety."

That needn't be. The farm bill is in a Senate-House conference committee, so there's time to strip the problematic language from the final version. For safety's sake, Congress should do so.

--The Denver Post

New proposal would close this food-stamp loophole

A loophole in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps, that costs taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars each year gives an otherwise vital component of the social safety net a black eye.

SNAP benefits vary according to a recipient's monthly income and expenses. If you can document costs for utilities such as heating, your benefits go up accordingly. However, some recipients have no utility bills, since the cost is included in their rent. In such cases, the rules allow states to factor in a payment from the federal Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program in lieu of a utility bill. And a LIHEAP payment of as little as $1 per year can leverage significant extra food stamp payments. So more than a dozen states and the District of Columbia have adopted the practice of issuing token LIHEAP payments to food stamp applicants -- heat and eat.

While technically legal and undoubtedly well-intended, this maneuver results in many people receiving money based on utility expenses they did not actually incur. To be sure, SNAP benefits hardly pay for a luxury diet, and current law calls for the total cost of the benefits to decline from $76 billion in fiscal 2013 to $65 billion in 2023. Yet at a time when the Republican-controlled House is already calling for nearly $40 billion in cuts to SNAP over the next decade, heat and eat looks less like a clever way to help the poor and more like a political gift to SNAP's perennial opponents.

A proposal under discussion by House and Senate farm-bill negotiators would curtail this misuse of SNAP at a savings of $8 billion over the next decade. Basically, the plan would establish a minimum LIHEAP payment -- $20 a year -- to qualify for enhanced benefits, which is more than the states that play the heat-and-eat game would be willing to pay. Only 4 percent of all SNAP families would see a benefit reduction; crucially, none would lose basic eligibility.

It is, indeed, galling that the savings would effectively fund subsidies for farmers elsewhere in the bill rather than for other low-income programs, as we'd prefer. That's a reason to pursue a long-term alternative to the legislative linkage of SNAP and agriculture programs.

--The Washington Post