Do you eat? If so, then the Farm Bill affects you. The U.S. Farm Bill is a massive piece of legislation that covers most federal government policies related to agriculture in the United States. The bill covers everything from the SNAP program (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) to crop subsidies, crop insurance, safety regulations, research, conservation and land stewardship, local food initiatives, educational programs, micro-loans and more. It is typically renewed every five years. The last farm bill was passed in 2008. The Senate passed their version of the farm bill in June as they did a year ago. But last year, the House didn’t vote on the bill at all. So this summer, they’re at it again.
Farm Bill History
The Farm Bill was originally created in 1933 as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Agricultural Adjustment Act, which provided subsidies to U.S. farmers in the midst of the Great Depression. The federal government paid farmers to stop the production of seven main crops, also known as “commodities,” to decrease the supply and thus increase the prices of staple crops. The Act also contained several provisions related to conservation, support for farmers suffering from effects of the Dust Bowl, and the storage of surplus harvests. Since 1965, Farm Bills have been passed every five or six years.
What’s Happening Now?
Several attempts to pass a new farm bill in 2012 failed and the farm bill that is currently in effect is a short-term extension that expires in September 2013. The extension bill kept major programs like payments for commodity crops alive, but left out important programs for organic and sustainable agriculture, conservation, and beginning farmers. The Senate passed their version and now the House will debate it’s version.
The Senate Bill
The bill the Senate passed leaves a lot to be desired. Food and Water Watch described it as “doing little to address the stranglehold that food processing firms have over America’s unsustainable and unfair food system.” Because of disputes over whose amendments would be considered, more than 200 proposed amendments were not considered at all. Some of the amendments that did not get a vote would have dramatically improved the bill, including measures that would have injected some common sense to address the rising consolidation in the food industry, an amendment by Senator Tester to prioritize research funding for non-genetically engineered seeds and breeds, and Senator Boxer’s amendment to require labeling of genetically engineered foods.
However, the failure to consider numerous amendments meant that some not-so-good changes were averted, including measures to delay implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act, and deeper cuts to food assistance programs.
Overall it falls short because it would expand crop insurance subsidies and price guarantees for the largest and most successful farmers while cutting nutrition and conservation programs.
What Stabenow Says
Michigan’s own Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow said the bill would support 16 million American jobs, save taxpayers billions, and put into place “the most significant reforms to agriculture programs in decades.” But it would still generously subsidize corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton, rice, sugar and other major crops. Conservation programs that help protect farmland and waters would also be cut by about $3.5 billion in the Senate bill.
Next Step...the House
The next step for the farm bill is the House of Representatives, where some predict a highly contentious debate. Once this draft passes, both versions move to the Conference Committee which is comprised of legislators from both houses whose job is to merge these two bills into one. Once merged it is sent back to both houses for a vote. Both the House and the Senate need to pass the bill before it can be sent to the President to be signed into law.
Now is the time for people to contact their representatives and ask them to include amendments that support local farming initiatives. protect our health, our food supply and our environment and to defund those programs that provide large sums of money to Big Ag. They need to hear that we do not want GMOs in our food.
For more information and for updates on Farm Bill progress go to the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition website: sustainableagriculture.net