by Craig Weatherby and Randy Hartnell
As we reported in our June 4, 2007 article on the US Farm Bill, many farmers and health experts seek serious change to what has become an $8 billion annual welfare check for big agribusinesses that produce our least healthful foods.
(See “Farm Bill Sets Americans' Tables for Ill Health”.)
The House passed its version of the Farm Bill in July, and it contained no substantive changes to the current system.
Thanks to the powerful agribusiness lobby, the Senate could rubber stamp the House bill.
|ALERT ... Spread the Word!|
The 2007 Farm Bill is moving through the Senate, fast. This law is highly consequential to the health of the nation and the survival of small, sustainable farms.
Please forward this article to friends and family, using the "Forward to a Friend" link at upper right.
We like the FRESH Act amendment from Senators Lugar and Lautenberg, described in this article. If you agree that it makes sense, ask your Senators and Representative to support S. 2228.
Not sure how to go about that? See “Contact your Congresspersons!”, below.
Together, we can have a tremendous impact on the collective health of Americans … and the survival of small, diverse, sustainable farms, which produce our healthiest foods without polluting the land.
It's moving fast, but there is still hope, if people ask their Senators and Representatives to support a Senate amendment called the FRESH Act (S. 2228), which we describe below.
You will also find information below on how to contact your Senators to urge their support for this worthy amendment.
The centerpiece of the new Farm Bill is the same old system of payments, structured to subsidize affluent corporate growers of corn, wheat, rice, soybeans and cotton.
The Farm Bill, which is undergoing re-authorization in Congress as we write, does little or nothing to support production of far healthier fare like fruits, vegetables, and fish.
UC Berkeley journalism professor Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma, described the situation in his essay, titled "Weed it and Reap" in yesterday's New York Times:
“Americans have begun to ask why the farm bill is subsidizing high-fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oils at a time when rates of diabetes and obesity among children are soaring, or why the farm bill is underwriting factory farming (with subsidized grain) when feedlot wastes are polluting the countryside and, all too often, the meat supply.”
“For the first time, the public health community has raised its voice in support of overturning farm policies that subsidize precisely the wrong kind of calories (added fat and added sugar), helping to make Twinkies cheaper than carrots and Coca-Cola competitive with water.” (Pollan M 2007)
Senators' FRESH Act offers best hope of real reform
Reform efforts failed in the House of Representatives, so the last, best hope for a better Farm Bill lies in an amendment introduced in the Senate by Republican Richard Lugar of Indiana, and Democrat Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey.
The key part of Lugar and Lautenberg's amendment – called the FRESH Act – is that growers of corn, soy, wheat, cotton would receive a payment only when their income dropped more than 15 percent as the result of bad weather or price collapse.
(FRESH is an acronym that stands for Farm, Ranch, Equity, Stewardship and Health.)
The $20 billion this change would save would instead go to produce supports, conservation efforts, nutrition programs, and deficit reduction.
Here's how the Senators described the current situation and their amendment's purpose, in a press release (we underlined the key points):
“Over the past ten years, farm subsidies have gone to just one out of three farmers with only six percent of farms receiving more than 70 percent of that money – namely $120 billion. Subsidy programs have spurred farm consolidation, violated international trade agreements and still left most farmers heavily exposed to risk,” said Lugar, a family farmer and member and former chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee.
“The current farm bill is an antiquated system of giant payments to a handful of farms, while ignoring the needs of most American farmers,” said Lautenberg. “Our bill provides a safety net to farmers … regardless of what they grow or where they farm. It ensures stable incomes, even in bad years, reduces our deficit and frees up money for conservation, nutrition and harvesting local crops like fruits and vegetables.”
You can read the FRESH Act Farm Bill amendment here and a section-by-section analysis is found here.
Fresh Act: The key funding priorities
In addition to any emergency income-support payments to farmers, the FRESH Act would provide $18.6 billion for the following programs over the next five years:
- Fruit and vegetable support – $1.5 billion. FRESH Act provides new support for produce farmers, via transportation grants, block grants, research funding, pest detection and response, and other programs.
- Diet and health support – $2.0 billion. The FRESH Act makes healthy, local foods, especially for children, a centerpiece of U.S. farm policy with new investments in fruit and vegetable snacks, nutrition education, expansion of farmers markets and organic farming, and provision of more nutritious local foods in schools and on military bases across the nation.
- Conservation programs – $6.2 billion. To expand farmland and grassland protection, EQIP, CSP and other critical conservation programs.
- Food Stamp Expansion – $4.3 billion. Some 35 million Americans, including 12 million children, face hunger. FRESH Act will bring Food Stamp benefits more in line with real food prices, updating asset rules to keep pace with inflation and other adjustments. FRESH also supports TEFAP, the summer feeding program, and combat pay exclusion and exemption of child care expenses.
- Deficit Reduction – $3.0 billion over 5 years. While well-intentioned, Congress is good at playing shell games with money “dedicated” to deficit reduction.
- Renewable Energy – $1.6 billion. The Senators cite grants, loans, and loan guarantees for “farm- and ranch-based energy production”, which may include wind turbines, crop-derived ethanol, and expanded energy conservation efforts. We wish they'd drop the ethanol part, but it is probably an inevitable compromise to mollify corn farmers.
Contact your Congresspersons!
The 2007 Farm Bill will set policy through 2012, so it is critical to improve it radically.
Contacted your US Senators and US Representative to tell them you want a 2007 Farm Bill that does four key things:
- Makes fruits and vegetables much more affordable for consumers of all income levels.
- Eliminates or sharply reduces subsidies for corn, soy, and wheat.
- Makes the school lunch program a subsidized market for the most healthful foods.
- Rewards soil conservation and sustainable farming (organic and mixed-use).
For more on our reasons for supporting these positions, see “Farm Bill Sets Americans' Tables for Ill Health”.)
The Farm Bill is now going through the Senate.
To find contact information for your Senators, go to http://www.senate.gov
And it is important to keep pressure on the House, as well, since the Senate and House will have to negotiate a compromise between the two bills. To find contact information for your Representatives, go to http://www.house.gov
You will lend your letter or email more impact if you do four things:
- Include your full name and address.
- State your purpose for writing or e-mailing in the first paragraph, and include the number of the bill (S. 2228 for Senator Lugar and Lautenberg's FRESH Act).
- Address only one issue and keep the letter to one page.
- Ask for a response to your letter, so you know where they stand.
Address your letters as follows:
The Honorable (Senator's full name)
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510
The Honorable (Representative's full name)
House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515
You can also call your Congresspersons by calling the Capitol Hill Switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and asking to be connected to their offices.
- Pollan M. Weed It and Reap. The New York Times. Accessed online November 4, 2007 at http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/04/opinion/04pollan.html
- Lugar, Lautenberg offer FRESH reform of farm programs. Accessed online November 4, 2007 at http://lugar.senate.gov/record.cfm?id=285881&
- Lugar amendment challenges priorities. Accessed online November 4, 2007 at http://www.lugar.senate.gov/farmbill/