The 2007 Farm Bill hit the Senate floor yesterday, and at stake are billions of dollars and the health of millions of Americans. Utne Reader has been gearing up for the fight over the bill for a while now, having published a breakdown of the issues back in March/April 2006. “If you care about wetlands, or advocate for the hungry, or believe in better nutrition for school children, or just want to keep breathing clean air," Scott Carlson wrote, "you should pay attention to the Farm Bill.”
Now the debate is heating up. “This is not just a farm bill,” said Democratic Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee. “It’s a food bill, and Americans who eat want a stake in it.” Harkin’s strong words haven’t translated into strong actions, though, according to an editorial by Michael Pollan in Sunday’s New York Times. Pollan characterized the current draft of the farm bill as “let-them-eat-high-fructose-corn-syrup.”
Critics like Pollan are up in arms over the bloated federal subsidies set up by the bill. The government would continue to pay out heavy subsidies to farmers of corn, wheat, and other commodity crops, while growers of fruits and vegetables, referred to as “specialty crops,” are often left out in the cold.
Committees have tried to mask these subsidies by offering specialty “programs” designed to appease different interest groups. The programs include money for environmental protection, research, and food stamps for the poor. Many of these programs are worthwhile, but as Scott Faber of the Grocery Manufacturers Association told the San Francisco Chronicle, “Just because you’ve rolled horse manure in powdered sugar doesn’t mean you have a doughnut.”
Adding high drama to the debate surrounding the Farm Bill is a total lack of partisan solidarity. Groups as disparate as the anti-tax National Taxpayers Union and Willie Nelson’s Farm Aid have joined in chorus to call for major changes in the federal subsidies. The Bush administration has even threatened to veto the bill, the San Francisco Chronicle reports, for giving undue benefits to “Park Avenue millionaires.”
When the Bush administration is standing up to millionaires, the issue must be important. While debate is still raging in the Senate, now is the time for concerned citizens to contact their representatives and tell them to reform farm subsidies. To find your senator’s phone number and email, click here.
For more information, check out these links:
Utne Reader’s 2006 article on how to reform the Farm Bill:
Michael Pollan’s article from the New York Times:
The San Francisco Chronicle on the politics behind the bill:
National Public Radio gives an overview of the issues:
Willie Nelson talks about the importance of the Farm Bill in Mother Earth News:
The Economist is direly pessimistic about the state of American agriculture:
A proposal by Indiana Republican Senator Richard Lugar to shake up federal farm subsidies called the Farm Ranch Equity Stewardship and Health FRESH Act of 2007: