Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Farm Bill

Last week, Civil Eats posted an article about the Top 10 Things You Should Know About the Farm Bill. It's worth a read.

I didn't really know anything at all about the Farm Bill until I read The Omnivore's Dilemma in 2006 and began to understand Michael Pollan's linkage of the cheapness of processed foods with the incredible corn subsidies that are paid for by the Farm Bill. Now, it seems more and more like many of America's dietary problems stem from problematic government incentives for certain kinds of production. This Bill is a big deal, but most people don't pay any attention to it because federal agriculture policy doesn't seem all that exciting.

The Farm Bill gets revised and re-issued every five years or so, and the 2012 version is currently being drafted.

So, definitely go read the whole article, but here, in brief, are the Top 10:

  1. 74% of all subsidy payments go to just 10% of farms for the largest five commodity crops (corn, cotton, rice, wheat, soybeans) 
  2. Almost none of the current Farm Bill funding goes to programs that support healthy fruits and vegetables, and these programs are threatened with full cuts in the 2012 revision of the Bill.
  3. A large portion (~90,000) of subsidy checks have gone to wealthy investors and absentee land owners, rather than to those who are truly working the land.
  4. Peanuts, sorghum, mohair, and a few other commodities also qualify for government support.
  5. "The flawed subsidy system creates perverse incentives for farmers to grow as much industrial-scale, fertilizer- and pesticide-intensive crops as possible, with harmful effects on our environment and drinking water–and the availability of organic food in your grocery store."
  6. The Farm Bill also provides money for things like the food stamp program (now, SNAP: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program).
  7. The Farm Bill also currently pays for the Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program,which gives seniors vouchers for farmer's markets, and the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, which provides nutritious produce to schools. These programs will be threatened in 2012. 
  8.  Although these initiatives are still underfunded, the Bill did provide more than $4 billion this year to help farmers conserve soil, clean up the water and protect habitat for wildlife.
  9. Many powerful groups and corporations--politicians looking to fill campaign coffers, corporate agri-chemical giants like Monsanto and Syngenta seeking to expand their markets, and Big Ag’s public relations and lobby organizations--stand in the way of revising the Farm Bill to provide healthy food, protect the environment and help working farm and ranch families
  10. Because the public and the media pay so little attention to the Farm Bill, much of the back room negotiating and writing is subject to heavy backroom political maneuvering.

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