Coalition Report

by Kathleen Logan Smith

Executive Director ; Missouri Coalition For The Environment


Farm Bill 2012: All Eaters Must Come to the Table

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. The next one will be written in 2012.

Last month, the so-called Congressional Super Committee disintegrated- 2011 being the year for meltdowns.  The “Secret” Farm Bill effort dissolved along with the Super Committee process thus effectively ensuring that Congress WILL write a 2012 Farm Bill. You, through your elected representatives, can now participate in a process that was, for a time, open only to four lawmakers and a handful of insiders who were bent on writing policies that benefit them alone.

Is your Congressman ready to engage in the Farm Bill debate on behalf of food security, healthy soil, and clean water? Probably not. Chances are that your Congressman represents an urban district where issues of employment, Medicaid, social security, tax policy, and federal transportation dollars loom larger in your Congressman’s mind.  And you must change that because you eat everyday.

No other common act has as much to do with our health as the food we put into our mouths. If our food is awash in chemicals, devoid of nutrients, loaded with fats and sugars, our bodies lose strength, functionality, and resilience and perhaps even develop disease over time. The impact on children is even greater because their bodies are building systems from scratch. Without the proper building blocks for healthy bodies, they will suffer a lifetime of costly consequences.

Under our current food policies our tax dollars subsidize and incentivize a food system that makes disease-causing food cheap and chemical-free strawberries more expensive. Cheap corn syrup ranks too low to merit the weight it currently receives in our food policy though the lobbyists from the cola companies will disagree. Our tax dollars underwrite industrialized food production that pollutes water, erodes soil, risks our health, and is dangerously dependent on petrochemicals.

A study released last month by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (see it at http://www.iatp.org/blog/201112/feeding-the-world-or-not) debunks the myth that we are “feeding the world” and the sad reality is we are not even feeding ourselves in Missouri. And increasingly, with one in five Missourians on food assistance, our capacity to feed our own hungry is faltering.

At a time when global politics is as volatile as gasoline, building America’s food security should be priority one. The Farm Bill is a key factor in the food equation.  In general, good sense tells us that local food systems must be strengthened, along with organic production that will help wean our food off chemicals and insulate us from disruptions in the oil markets. Fiscal sense dictates that tax money we spend must come with benefits that matter to the health and strength of our nation- like cleaner streams, safer drinking water, more farmers, and saving soil we need to grow food. The loophole in Farm Bill insurance programs exempting beneficiaries from standards of good soil and water stewardship must be eliminated because it is foolish to subsidize destructive practices. We must require any agriculture producer to adhere to the highest standards of soil conservation and water protection in order to receive public benefits.

Resolve in 2012 to be at the table when the Farm Bill is forming. Insist that our urban Congressmen research and articulate Farm Bill positions that matter to every constituent who eats. Insist too that they not defer to “farm state” legislators or ag-biz lobbyists – that they fight for serious reforms. You must be at the table. With every meal, remind yourself that we too are stakeholders in our nation’s food system. And the system is broken. The 2012 Farm Bill offers the best prospects of any in over 40 years to bring about the changes our health and our environment need – but the fight will be tough and it will take every eating person paying attention and speaking out.  In 2012, demand a better Farm Bill. The time for quiet complicity is over.