Friday, July 13, 2012

Farm Bill Follow Up

Yesterday the House Agricultural Committee passed a Farm Bill that has some very positive elements and some neutral elements.  The bill passed 35-11 with 7 democrats voting against it mainly because of the cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and 4 Republicans citing fiscal concerns an disagreements about the commodity program. These are some positive elements, as highlighted by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC):
  • Pingree (D-ME) and Ellmers (R-NC)'s amendment allows certain school to make their own food purchase choices so it's easier to buy local.
  • Pingree's amendment that enables SNAP Recipients to use benefits for Community Supported Agriculture shares was passed
  • Her amendment requiring the USDA to make recommendations on steps to serve small meat and poultry processing facilities and to access to information on the meat and poultry labeling process
  • An amendment by Rep. Sewall (D-AL) requires the USDA to conduct a study on increasing specialty crop production by small, women, minority and socially disadvantaged farmers.  
  • an amendment that authorizes micro loans for beginning young and small farmers was passed and a military veterans liaison at the USDA will be established. 
The bad news is that, Tom Philpott calls this Farm Bill "boldly regressive" and reports that Ferd Hoefner, the policy director at NSAC called it an "anti-reform bill—bad for family farmers, rural communities, and the environment." Some particularly negative elements of the farm bill include: 

  • deep cuts to the SNAP program over all
  • it limits what the USDA can consider when conducting environmental reviews of GE Crop and according to Philpott   "all requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act or Endangered Species Act, would be banned, even if a crop approval would harm protected species."
  • There are also deep cuts in the beginning farmer and rancher development program (though there is funding in other programs that will support beginning farmers).  
  • Oh and then there's the Environmental Working Group's Top Ten Reasons to Reject the House Farm Bill (cuts in nutrition assistance, even higher subsidies for big farms, cuts in conservation programs, few incentives to encourage healthy diets, weakening of GMO regulations, and taking power away from states in terms of making their own farm and food laws, and it repeals an organic cost-sharing program to reduce the burden on farmers when they go organic).
The House Agricultural Committee's Farm Bill is not the one that sustainable agriculture advocates hoped for - at all.  This image has stuck with me for months (it's showed up on the blog two or three times now):
The USDA acknowledges that a healthy diet (which is less likely to result in obesity, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, etc.) is one half fruits and vegetables. Which means, instead of receiving 11% of funding, these "specialty crops" should receive 50% of it (maybe even more).  That was the big hope for this Farm Bill, that the local producers that grow "specialty" crops would finally receive the support from the government that acknowledges the role that these producers have in our nation's health.  Subsidizing organic food and fruits and vegetables can reduce prices for consumers. And cheaper healthy food would mean foodstamps would go a lot further in feeding our nation's starving families (half of the people using food stamps are children). 

Instead, it's more of the same.  It could even potentially be worse. With no incentive for farmers to grow organic, and leaving health foods as an expensive "specialty" food, and diminishing the funding for food stamp so underprivileged can  buy any kind of food at all, the 2012 Farm Bill is a pretty transparent gift to Big Agriculture while taking from the environment, national health, and small producers.

And on that note, have a wonderful weekend everyone.

1 comment:

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