For most of this year, Congress has been debating what to include in the 2007 Farm Bill, but there is still time for you to contact your legislators and have an influence. This opportunity to shape what food is grown, how it is grown, who grows it, and who can afford to eat it only comes around once every 5 years! Farm Bill policy is controversial and it helps to understand why. Food & Water Watch’s Farm Bill 101 provides an easy-to-read 1-page history of the development of farm bill policy.
It is important to understand the difference between “commodity” crops (corn, wheat, oats, rice, cotton, soybeans) and “specialty” crops (fruits and vegetables). For many years, the farm bill has provided loans and subsidies for commodity crops that are not available for specialty crops. These commodity crop subsidies are the source of many years of farm bill controversy.
Farm bill policy that pays subsidies (read: our tax dollars) when it costs more to grow the commodity crops than the price to purchase them provides indirect subsidies to animal factory farms. Factory farms (Confined Animal Feeding Operations – CAFOs) buy up the excess commodity crops for animal feed and don’t pay what it truly costs to grow the grains. To make matters worse, the animals being raised in factory farms wouldn’t naturally be eating all this grain. Cows raised for dairy products and cattle raised for beef are ruminants and would naturally eat grasses. (Hence, the recent trend towards “grass-fed” beef.) Pigs like to use their snouts to root for underground tubers and eat nuts, seeds, fruits, and occasional birds’ eggs and rodents.
The US House passed its version of the Farm Bill in July. The Senate Agricultural Committee passed a version that is open for debate on the floor beginning Nov 5th, so there is still time for your input. After that, the House and Senate versions are merged together in a conference committee with time for more of your input.
Subsidies to the veal industry were in the original version of the House Farm Bill and thankfully, were removed. A far-reaching provision to terminate state / local animal welfare and food safety laws was removed from the House version, as well. Since all animal activity is monitored by the USDA, the House version of the Farm Bill has an amendment that prevents stolen pets from being sold into research, bars the use of live animals in medical device sales demonstrations and increases fines for violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act. Country-of-origin labeling (COOL) for meat and produce (which was in the 2002 Farm Bill but never implemented) is on track for September 2008 in the House version. It also includes funding for farmers transitioning to organic production and financial support for organic production method research. Despite these positive items, the non-profit Food & Water Watch says the House version of the Farm Bill leaves in place “a broken system for commodity crops.”
American Farmland Trust says the Senate version “has some very good policies and programs, but clearly could do much more to reform farm programs.” The Senate version continues providing funding for conservation programs such as the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) but increased funding is needed for the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (FRPP) to protect farmland from development and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to improve water quality. According to the American Farmland Trust, the “new Average Crop Revenue (ACR) program is an innovative and forward looking proposal that fundamentally changes the way commodity subsidies operate.” According to Senate Ag committee chair Tom Harkin, “(ACR) will give farmers an option of whether they want to stick with the old ways of doing things or do they want to try something new.”
It is anticipated that Senator Lugar from Indiana will bring an amendment to the Senate floor that would replace current crop subsidies with legislation known as the Farm Ranch Equity Stewardship and Health (FRESH) Act. “FRESH would massively overhaul farm subsidies that Lugar claims are unfair and assist large farmers at the expense of the whole nation’s agricultural health. Instead of subsidies, the reform bill would provide a federally backed insurance program that would be free for all growers.”
With innovative programs like the FRESH Act being proposed, the Senate floor debate may prove to be exciting. Follow the ongoing debate by signing up for action alerts through one or more of many organizations: Food & Water Watch, The American Farmland Trust, or the National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture.
I want a 2007 Farm Bill that
* Promotes access to healthy foods,
* Supports conservation programs,
* Supports new markets, value-added enterprises, and local food systems,
* Supports organic farming
* Supports beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers
* Does not subsidize CAFOs
* Does not allow pets to be obtained for research animals
If you agree, contact your senators and tell them… call the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121, or look up your senators here.
With an MBA in Sustainable Management, Janice Neitzel is a principal of Sustainable Solutions Group. She is a certified facilitator developing sustainability strategies for innovative value chain solutions with particular insight into improving animal-related business practices (www.JaniceNeitzel.com)