Following a lengthy and controversial legislative process, the US Congress enacted the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 (“the farm bill”) on May 22, 2008.1,2 The farm bill, which provides funding for a wide variety of agriculture-related projects and research, farm subsidies, and nutrition programs, includes 2 key provisions for the herbal industry. Under the new law, raw ginseng (Panax spp., Araliaceae) roots imported or sold in the United States must now include labeling indicating their country of origin, and herbal crops are now specifically acknowledged as eligible specialty crops under a government grant program.3
The new country of origin labeling requirement for raw, whole ginseng roots is intended to protect domestic ginseng farmers and American consumers against falsely marketed and mislabeled ginseng. Problems have been reported in the past of ginseng suppliers erroneously and/or fraudulently marketing ginseng grown in Asia or Canada as “Wisconsin grown.”4 According to the sellers and promoters of North American ginseng (P. quinquefolius) grown in Wisconsin, the region’s ginseng is internationally reputed as being of high quality and commands a premium price in world markets. US Senators Russ Feingold (D-WI) and Herb Kohl (D-WI) and Congressman Dave Obey (D-WI) introduced the Ginseng Harvest Labeling Act of 2007 in August 2007, which was the precursor to this amendment in the farm bill.5
The American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) assisted in the drafting of the bill and helped ensure that its language would not cause regulatory inspectors to mistakenly believe that the provision might apply to ginseng as an ingredient in finished dietary supplement or herbal tea products.3 After the passage of the farm bill, AHPA President Michael McGuffin announced that the new ginseng labeling provision will “ensure that buyers of whole ginseng root are given truthful information as to its source, without creating unnecessary labeling requirements for other herbal ingredients or for finished products.”3
Senator Feingold provided the following statement about the new ginseng labeling requirement: “The ginseng labeling provision in the farm bill is crucial for Wisconsin ginseng farmers and consumers, who lose out when foreign farmers freeload off of Wisconsin ginseng’s unparalleled reputation. I have worked on this issue for years with Senator Kohl and Representative Obey, and I am pleased we were able to help ensure consumers looking for Wisconsin ginseng are getting the premium product they expect” (e-mail, June 5, 2008).
Another provision of the farm bill acknowledges herbal crops as eligible specialty crops under the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, which provides funds to state departments of agriculture to enhance the competitiveness of US specialty crop growers in areas such as marketing, promotion, education, research, trade, and nutrition. There had been confusion in the past as to whether herbal crops were eligible under the grant program, since promotional literature disseminated to the states by the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service often would not explicitly list herbal crops as eligible specialty crops. Under the new farm bill, the Agricultural Marketing Service must include a comprehensive list of specific categories of eligible specialty crops in all relevant promotional materials distributed in connection to the program. Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) led the effort to add this language to the farm bill, at the suggestion of AHPA.3
The nearly $300 billion farm bill contains numerous funding initiatives, including increased assistance to organic farmers. The bill provides $22 million in mandatory funding for the National Organic Certification Cost-Share program, which helps producers and handlers of agricultural products in becoming certified for organic production and processing. The farm bill also includes a notable $10.3 billion increase in spending on nutrition programs, as well as increases for rural development and land conservation programs and extensions to various federal subsidies.6
The farm bill was passed by the US House of Representatives on May 14 and by the US Senate on May 15, 2008, both times with an overwhelming number of supporting votes. President George
W. Bush vetoed the bill, claiming it to be too expensive and generous to prosperous farmers, even though the US Congress had amassed enough votes in its favor to override a veto.2 After vetoing the bill, it was discovered that the copy of the bill sent to President Bush was missing 34 pages on international food aid and trade, sparking further controversy.1,2 Both the US House of Representatives and the US Senate overruled President Bush’s veto on May 22, enacting all sections of the bill except for the missing section. The House of Representatives passed the full version of the farm bill—including the missing pages that were not sent to President Bush—on May 22, and the Senate passed the full version on June
5. President Bush vetoed the full version of the farm bill on June 18, after which the US Congress immediately re-approved the bill, overturning the veto for a second time.7
- Stout D. Farm bill, in part and in full, wins passage. New York Times. May 23, 2008.
- Jalonick MC. Farm bill enacted despite Bush veto. Associated Press. May 23, 2008.
- Farm bill passes with veto-proof margins; ginseng labeling, money for organic farmers among AHPA-supported provisions [press release]. Silver Spring, MD: American Herbal Products Association; May 16, 2008.
- Cavaliere C, Blumenthal M. Wisconsin ginseng farmers fight to protect product reputation. HerbalGram. 2007;75:54-61.
- Cavaliere C, Blumenthal M. Wisconsin legislators introduce ginseng harvest labeling act. HerbalEGram. September 2007;4(9). Available at: http://abc.herbalgram.org/site/PageServer?pagename=04_09_Ginseng_ Labeling&autologin=true&JServSessionIdr009=o7d6ia7mu2.app7b. Accessed June 3, 2008.
- Herszenhorn DM, Stout D. Defying President Bush, Senate passes farm bill. New York Times. May 15, 2008.
- Farm bill is approved. Associated Press. June 19, 2008.