The Good, the Bad and the Confusing: The 2012 Farm Bill
The 2012 Farm Bill is a great example of how complicated and convoluted our political system is, and how easy it is to just say, “Ugh. This is why I don’t pay attention to politics.” Here is a compilation of some basic facts and some websites about the Farm Bill, and two reasons why it is important to contact your representative as soon as possible. At the very least you will be more informed about where the future of food and agriculture is headed.
Marion Nestle, a professor at NYU and author of a book called Food Politics, had this to say in her June article, A Farm Bill Postmortem: The End of Food Politics as Usual: It’s difficult to know what to say about a 1010-page bill that affects literally hundreds of programs, some big, some small, at such astronomical cost – an expected $97 billion per year. The bill is so big and so complex that it is unreasonable to expect legislators to understand it well enough to vote on it intelligently. Think of it as a prime example of special interests in action.
It’s nice to know that I am not the only one who feels a little overwhelmed.
About every five years since 1965 the US Congress has passed a multi-year jam-packed piece of legislation called a Farm Bill that serves as the federal government’s main agricultural and food policy tool. It regulates everything from sugar to sheep to food assistance programs. The current bill, passed in 2008, expires September 30th, and if a new Farm Bill is not adopted, we revert back to the permanent laws instituted in 1938 and 1949. No one is happy with this bill, and since this is an election year, politics and public image are creating even more obstacles, as reported by Sustainable Agriculture
Right now the GOP is avoiding bringing the bill to the floor, but there are only a few legislative days left to do so before the August recess. Peter Welch, (D-Vt.) is co-leading the effort to bring the bill to the floor. The bi-partisan letter states: While by no means perfect, this farm bill is needed for producers and those who rely on sound agriculture policy and nutrition programs during difficult economic times. The House Agriculture Committee has done its work and we now ask that you make time on the floor of the House to consider this legislation, so that it can be debated, conferenced, and ultimately passed into law, before the current bill expires. We need to continue to tell the American success story of agriculture and work to ensure we have strong policies in place so that producers can continue to provide an abundant, affordable and safe food supply.
It is clear that a Farm Bill needs to be passed, but it is also clear that this bill still needs some work. Two particularly problematic issues that keep appearing on my Facebook wall are: the ‘Monsanto-riders’ (Sections 10011, 10013, and 10014) and the severe bi cuts to SNAP, the food assistance program. Here is the the actual bill if you would like to take a look for yourself, and this is a statement from the Center for Food Safety. From my understanding, it seems that this would change how plant genetics are classified, oversite authority, and place a time limit of one year for the government to determine how to regulate biotech products:
Sec.10014. Report to Congress on Regulation of Biotechnology Not later than 1 year after the date of enactment of this section, the Secretary in consultation with the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency shall submit to Congress a report on the measures taken and proposed to be taken to provide for balanced and appropriate regulatory oversight of agricultural biotechnology products.
For more information about SNAP and the 2012 Farm Bill see SNAP to Health, The Atlantic’s The Economic Case for Food Stamps, and Marion Nestle weighs in again on the House Bill, with Thought the Senates Food Stamps Cuts were Bad? The House Version is Worse.
Abundant healthy foods are an essential human need, and the 2012 Farm Bill will direct food, nutrition and agricultural policy in this country for the next five years, and will continue to echo into the distant future.