The Farm Bill is the federal blueprint for the American food system. Due to pass into law as soon as this Friday, the bill does little to address poor nutrition, GMO and other unsustainable practices, and dangerous corporate control over the U.S. and global food supply.
The Green Shadow Cabinet have analysed the bill, and have reached the conclusion that it should be vetoed and replaced by new legislation with the wellbeing of farmers, consumers and the land -rather than corporate interests, at its heart.
The Farm Bill that President Obama signed into law will result in a very high level of hunger in the world’s richest country. It continues to promote a diet of overly processed food (or food substitutes) high in fat, sugar and salt that leads to health problems such as high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity. It provides massive tax subsidies to corporate agribusiness and wealthy investors rather than supporting family farmers. It promotes unhealthy food, monoculture and genetically engineered crops as well as confined animal feeding operations (CAFO’s) rather than sustainable agriculture. It slashes funding for conservation measures needed to reduce the pollution of our waters from these large scale, factory farming operations.
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The power of corporate interest in Washington is evident throughout this legislation. For example, Dow has successfully lobbied to have a one-paragraph provision added to the Farm Bill that will reverse the EPA’s proposed decision to prohibit the use of sulfuryl fluoride. This is despite the 2011 EPA proposal to phase-out the use of sulfuryl fluoride as a food fumigant which was based on the science – and agreed with all of the objections brought forward in the complaint.
The push to level the playing field for smaller livestock processors and farmers slid backwards. There are only a handful of beef packers, hog processors and poultry integrators. Farmers and ranchers often have little alternative but to accept the terms and prices offered by the few, large firms that dominate the industry – terms that are often unfair and abusive (to both the farmers and animals).
SNAP (food stamp) benefits were cut to an estimated 850,000 households – mainly public housing residents – by an average of $90 a month ($8.6 billion over 10 years). This was on top of the $5 billion SNAP cuts agreed to three years ago (when the Democrats were in the majority in both houses) but which took effect on Nov. 1. More than half of those receiving food stamps have a job but their pay is too low to feed their families. Anti-hunger advocates had wanted to increase food stamp benefits by at least 30%; right now they provide less than $1.40 per meal per person.
Demand at emergency food providers around the country has skyrocketed since the Great Recession started in 2007, more than doubling in many communities. Much of the rise in hunger has been due to the sharp spike in unemployment – and under the meager so-called recovery, middle class jobs have been replaced by those paying less than a poverty wage. The Republican response to joblessness has been to cut food benefits (they will be more desperate for work if they are starving) and to cut unemployment benefits.
Many groups have expressed relief in the passage of the farm bill, noting that it could have been far worse. There are some modest reforms in the present bill. The Farm Bill does relink conservation requirements to the receipt of crop insurance premium subsidies. A number of good programs that were cut out a year ago when the farm bill was extended were restored – Beginning and Disadvantaged farmers, farmers markets, community food projects, support for local food systems, etc. But they amount to a few million dollars here and there in a bill that spends around $100 billion annually. Pocket change, not game changers.
The last time the Farm Bill passed in 2008, House Speaker leader Nancy Pelosi publicly promised the American people that Congress would never pass such a bad farm bill again, after a spirited struggle to reign in corporate subsidies failed. Pass it now, we’ll do better next time, she said. That promise was not kept.
President Bush vetoed that 2008 Farm Bill because it “continues subsidies for the wealthy.” President Obama lacks the courage to do so. This time around, the minor reforms to curb such subsidies were jettisoned in the closing hours of negotiations. Instead of a $50,000 annual limit on the primary payments (or double that for married couples), Congress approved a $125,000 limit (again, doubled for married couples). They also decided not to adopt the House and Senate-passed provisions to close the loopholes that currently allow large, wealthy farms to collect many multiples of the nominal payment limit.
Yes, the system of direct payments for commodities was largely eliminated (largely due to record high prices) but environmental and taxpayer groups claim that the new insurance “reforms” are largely a bait-and-switch effort that will continue giveaways to agribusiness and wealthy investors. Though there were some limited reforms to aid both organic and diversified farm operations, the crop insurance program is designed to protect, at taxpayer expense, the profits of large farms that produce commodity crops. It does little to protect small integrated farmers that actually grow food,
A proposal to cap (not eliminate) the profits of the ten largest farm insurance providers in order to free up funds to eliminate the cuts to the SNAP program was defeated 2 to 1 in the Senate – which meant that 2 dozen Democrats voted against it. Taxpayers take the risk under the farm insurance program while the insurance companies pocket the profits.
This Farm Bill highlights all that is wrong with our political and economic system. It continues the destructive and inequitable status quo. The debate was not over what was good for America, but between the needs of plain farmers in the mid-West (corn, soy, wheat) vs. Southern farmers (rice, cotton, peanuts). The well-being of the vast majority of Americans wasn’t a factor. Campaign contributions and special interests determined the decisions.
For all of these reasons, the Green Shadow Cabinet cannot support the Farm Bill, and maintain our call for full restoration of SNAP, A global moratorium on genetically engineered foods and crops, organic production targets and a fair-trade model for the U.S. food supply.