As I write this, the U.S. House of Representatives has passed their version of the new U.S. Farm Bill, which makes some changes to current program funding levels while still providing for new and expanded programs without requiring new program money.
The Illinois Department of Agriculture, other state agencies and the governor's office have been involved in the development of farm bill policy documents for regional and national organizations such as the Midwest Governor's Association and the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture. These policy documents will hopefully further ensure Illinois' position on the titles of the bill are conveyed to our congressional delegates. While a lot of work remains, the initial passage of the house version indicates the next version of the farm bill could likely be fundamentally different from the 2002 legislation.
One area that quite possibly will see an increase in funding is in the area of renewable fuels. On the state level, several state agencies remain committed to developing the biofuels industry in Illinois through various provisions outlined in the governor's Energy Independence Plan, which was announced in August 2006. In fact, the Illinois Department of Agriculture is part of a multi-agency team that frequently meets with groups proposing biofuels projects to discuss the state's involvement in permitting and financing.
Although biofuel development is a key priority, the department is also involved with providing a variety of consumer protection mechanisms authorized by a number of statutes. For example, Illinois Department of Agriculture employees are responsible for monitoring the safety of meat and poultry products slaughtered and processed in Illinois as well as regulating the accuracy of weighing and measuring devices in the state.
One final item I would like to touch on is a new initiative. It is the governor's Climate Change Advisory Group. The group, led by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, is charged with reviewing policy options and strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Illinois and making recommendations to the governor. Other representatives of the group include: Ameren, BP America Inc., Baxter Healthcare, Caterpillar, Inc., Center for Energy and Economic Development, Citizen Action of Illinois, Citizens Utility Board, City of Chicago, Deere & Company, Dynegy, Environment Illinois, Environmental Law & Policy Center of the Midwest, Faith in Place, Ford Motor Company, Illinois AFL-CIO, League of Women Voters of Illinois, Midwest Generation, Midwest Wind Energy, NICOR, Natural Resources Defense Council, Phoenix Architects, Inc., Regional Transportation Authority, Scates Farm, Sieben Energy Associates, Sierra Club - Illinois Chapter, State Farm Insurance, United Transportation Union, University of Illinois - Chicago, University of Illinois - Urbana/Champaign, Village of Schaumburg, and Waste Management, Inc.
Throughout this process, the department has been involved in a subgroup focusing on specific policy options impacting agriculture that may help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Not only has this group discussed the importance of further expanding no-till farming; but also how to ensure the expansion of the biofuels industry does not lessen the impact of the final policy recommendations. The Advisory Group has recommended a minimum of 19 strategies to the governor for reducing greenhouse gases and more could be added in the future.
As we continue to see the impact the expansion of biofuels has on the state's economy and policy development initiatives it is imperative the agency continues to provide consumer protection under a number of mandated statutes. From food safety to seed label guarantees, employees of the Illinois Department of Agriculture are working hard to continue to provide you with the quality services Illinois consumers expect.
For more information go to www.agr.state.il.us. Have a safe and enjoyable fall harvest season.