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COALITION REPORT: Where’s America’s Farm Bill?

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The House Wants You to Eat in the Dark and Pay the Bill

by Kathleen Logan Smith, Executive Director; Missouri Coalition For The Environment

In this column, we’ve been learning more about the U.S. Farm Bill, the package of legislation that impacts our food system- what is grown, how it’s grown, and how much it costs us. The Farm Bill, or the Food Bill as it should be known, is reauthorized every five years or so by Congress. Congress aims to pass one in 2012.

Do you want to know whether the meat you buy in the store is from the U.S., China or Brazil? Do you want farmers who raise chickens, eggs or hogs to be able to sell their livestock at free and competitive markets? Do you want the hungriest people in our nation to receive aid to obtain food? Do you want foods containing Genetically Modified Organisms to be analyzed before they hit our store shelves?

Then you’ve got days to let your Representatives and Senators know what you want because after the House of Representatives passed its Farm Bill last month the only hope for the Farm Bill now is in conference between the House and Senate.

In June, the U.S. Senate passed a version of the nation’s Farm Bill. In July, under the leadership of Reps. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) and Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), the House passed its version of the Farm Bill (H.R. 6083) that can generously be described as a failure for people, animals, land, air, water, food, taxpayers, and the economy.

There are plenty of losers in this Farm Bill.

It is perhaps, more instructive to consider who wins in the Lucas/Peterson Farm Bill: Farmers making more than $200,000 a year (the House rejected limits on subsidies and income requirements for recipients); pesticide and chemical fertilizer producers (programs that favor responsible pesticide and fertilizer application practices were slashed); Big Chicken and Big Pig (the House blocked states from setting standards for how livestock is raised). Foreign livestock producers also win (the House removed Country of Origin Labeling or COOL measures); big meat monopolies win (the House removed measures supporting free markets and fairness in livestock contracts); companies launching untested genetically modified organisms win big (The House exempted GMO crops from environmental reviews and set arbitrary deadlines on regulators that will eviscerate already weak oversight over biotech crops by allowing the sale of foods that haven’t been approved or analyzed by USDA).

For example, despite support from farm groups, the House version failed to include commonsense reforms in existing farm bill programs like caps on taxpayer subsidies for producers in the most used and most costly programs. Already the largest 10 percent of subsidized growers collect roughly 75% of federal farm subsidies and this Bill keeps that status quo. In programs like revenue insurance, this opens up the taxpayers’ pocketbooks and invites the richest ag producers to extract funds without limits and without producers having to demonstrate they need the help. At the same time, the House version cuts the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food aid) by $16 billion and requires recipients to demonstrate they need the help to obtain food. It cuts soil and water conservation programs by $6 billion at a time when market forces are increasing pressure on those vital resources. It failed to include a provision that would require recipients of crop insurance subsidies to be good stewards of soil and water in exchange for these generous benefits. (One place ripe for cuts is the payments to 15 private companies paid to administer the taxpayer-subsidized federal crop insurance program that are getting nearly $1 for administration for every $1 farmers get.) The House Farm Bill also weakens the positions of independent family farmers and hands more power to mega-industrial meat packers like Tyson and Cargill by un-doing essential provisions in the nation’s Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) rulemaking.

In short, the House version of the Farm Bill undermines our long-term food security and subsidizes the next Dust Bowl, which, in this record drought, may come sooner than we think.

Learn more about our nation’s food policy by checking our website, www.moenviron.org, subscribing to our e-alerts, and supporting our work.

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