This year’s Farm Bill offers the chance to significantly change the way agriculture works in this country. If you care about food and how it’s produced, here’s what you need to know.
Once every five to seven years, a largely unnoticed but essential piece of legislation known as the Farm Bill has to be reauthorized in Congress. The current bill is set to expire on Sept. 30, 2012, and debate is heating up about what will be included in the next bill. Here are five facts to be aware of as the bill moves forward.
1. The Farm Bill Is Now a Food Bill. Between 2008 and 2012, more than 78 cents of every Farm Bill dollar was dedicated to nutrition assistance programs. Much of this funding goes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (or SNAP, formerly known as Food Stamps). During the current economic crisis, enrollment in SNAP has soared to more than 46 million — one in seven U.S. citizens.
2. We Heavily Subsidize the Industrial Food System. The five crops that receive the most support from the Farm Bill are corn, cotton, soybeans, wheat and rice. The majority of these crops are fed to livestock, used as ingredients in processed foods or converted into ethanol. The foods that should make up at least half of our diets — fruits, nuts and vegetables — are termed “specialty crops” and receive only modest support.
3. Mega-Farms Benefit the Most. The big Farm Bill winners are mega-farms, many of which gross more than $250,000 per year in income. The top 10 percent of farms have historically received up to 74 percent of subsidies. Meanwhile, small and mid-sized family farms struggle each year to get by.
4. Conservation Programs Are Always First on the Chopping Block. Rather than cutting commodity crop subsidies, Congress typically raids conservation programs. In 2011, $500 million was slashed from conservation programs; another $1 billion was cut in 2012. Commodity programs suffered no such losses.
5. The Farm Bill Affects Everyone. The United States spends nearly $100 billion on Farm Bill programs each year. Even urban coalitions such as the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the National League of Cities see the Farm Bill as critical to their interests. Helping those in need get enough to eat, supporting farmers who carefully steward natural resources, expanding the availability and affordability of locally produced organic foods and grass-fed animal products— all of these should be key priorities in the next Farm Bill.
We highly recommend Imhoff’s book about this crucial legislation. We are currently selling Food Fight at a 25 percent discount. — MOTHER EARTH NEWS