Tag Archives: farmbill agriculture health environment

California Delegation supports Farm Bill Reform

Half of the California delegation to Congress has signed onto a letter to the House Agriculture Committee urging major reforms in the 2007 food and farm bill.  The letter seeks expanded support for:

* organic, family, and beginning farmers
* healthier local food systems
* conservation programs
* food stamp and nutrition programs 

Unfortunately, despite widespread outcry for reform, the version of the Farm Bill that passed  subcommittee to the full committee on June 19 is a straightforward extension of the existing policies that enrich Archer Daniels Midland and the corporate food processing oligopoly, fostering an epidemic of obesity and diabetes and continuing environmental degradation.

More across the flip…

The harm of the current policy

Michael Pollan connected the dots a year ago in the excellent book, “the Omnivore's Dilemma” which  explains how the Farm Bill is critical, and harmful to public health, the environment, and energy. The current subsidy system keeps prices low and production high, and rewards the overproduction of a corn, soy, and a handful of other commodities. 

The current farm bill underlies the epidemic of obesity and diabetes.  Between 1985 and 2000, the  cost of  soft drinks fell by 23 percent while the cost of fruits and vegetables jumped by 38 percent.  The farm bill subsidizes the creation of high fructose corn syrup, which makes Coca Cola cheap, and  does very little to benefit the production of fruits and vegetables. The corn and soy are used as  animal feed, fostering the creation of vast inhumane CAFOs and making McDonalds burgers cheap.

The current policy fosters environmental destruction.  There is a vast “dead zone” in the Gulf of  Mexico  where the level of oxygen is too low to sustain life. The deadzone is created by runoff from  areas of the upper midwest which receive the biggest payouts in federal crop subsidies, and have the  fewest acres in conservation programs, according to a recent study conducted by scientists at the  Environmental Working group. 

The biggest benefit from the Farm Bill goes to the oligopoly of food processors.The processors pay  farmers less than  what it costs to produce food, and the government makes up the rest in subsidy.  The top four  companies controlled 84% of beef processing, 59% of hog processing, 59% of chicken  processing, 81% of  corn, 81% of soybeans.  They use this market power to craft draconian contracts,  where farmers can't disclose terms to their lawyer or even spouse; and need to make long-term loans  and purchases as conditions for short-term contracts.  The subsidies are a boon only to the top  handful of  wealthy producers. 70 percent of the subsidies go to the top 10 percent of growers. 

So, what would be a better policy?

* close loopholes that provide subsidies to the largest players
* foster competition in the processing sector with anti-trust and fair business policies
* make healthy food available to low-income folks, old folks and kids
* fund conservation and environmental protection programs
* support organic, family, and beginning farmers

More detailed recommendations from California Coalition for Food and Farming here

Who is in favor of reform? 

There is a broad and unusual coalition of groups that want reform:
* representatives of urban and suburban voters who eat and who realize that the current system is  making Americans fat and sick (most of California, and most of the US)
* advocates for low-income, elderly and young people who suffer the most from unhealthy food
* representatives of regions with growers of produce and organic farming (much of California's  agriculture)
* advocates for the environment who favor provisions for that support local, organic food production, and conservation
* antitrust progressives who would curtail the power of the food processing oligopoly
* fiscal conservatives (the few that exist) who want to reduce corporate welfare.

There are more people who want to reform the system than to keep it. 

In the 2002 debate that  product the current farm bill, a reform bill by Rep. Kind came fairly close (200 votes) to passage.  This time around, there are alternative bills advocating subsidy reform, conservation, healthy food, and sustainable farming with support from 200 members.  But the proponents of the system are concentrated and well-organized, and the opponents of the  system are distributed.

Until recently, the farm bill looked to a lot of people like something that was of interest to farms and farmers. Only a few percent of Americans farm, so agriculture policy was left to  representatives of a few farm states.  It is important to speak up and let our reps know that there is voter support for reform. 

What to do, and what's next?

On July 17, the House Agriculture Committee is planning hearing the recommendations of the  subcommittee.  The July 4 recess is an excellent time to contact your rep. If he or she is on the  list, thank them and ask them to continue to pressure for reform. Also, please contact the members of the four California members of the House Agriculture Committee Joe Baca, Dennis Cardoza, Jim Costa, and Kevin McCarthy. 

California Coalition for Food and Farming has a sample letter to start from. You can sign up for their action alerts 

This is an important issue for progressives, tied into public health, the environment, and energy and  corporate power.  Reform is an opportunity for California. California's leading farm sector is produce, which doesn't benefit from the current bill,  California growers grow nearly half of the nation's organic vegetables and also lead in the production of organic fruits and nuts.  It's a good opportunity for California to come together for progressive reform. 

How to stay informed 

There are some excellent blogs and sites covering the Farm Bill that you can use to stay up to date.

* California Coalition on Food and Farming
* Environmental Working Group
* Blog for Rural America
* Organic Farming Research Foundation
* The Ethicurean