Farm Bill Passes Senate, Prompts Mixed Reactions

In a major step towards a new Farm Bill for the country, the huge omnibus legislation that largely dictates how we grow and eat our food in the United States, the bill passed the Senate in late June by a 2 to 1 ratio.  Discussion on the House version has already begun, and the Senate version resulted in lots of different perspectives.  As with any large omnibus bill, there are both good and bad parts the Senate version, and no way to say overall that it’s a positive or negative development.

There are a few pieces that would support a more just, fair, and sovereign food system, and others that prop up corporate and industrial agriculture at the cost of our communities both in the US and abroad.  One of the biggest shifts, changes to the crop insurance program, is a microcosm of the Farm Bill discussion: While it is now newly linked to compliance with conservation programs, grain and dairy farmers especially saw their crop insurance shift to a corporate-controlled subsidy system (allowed by the WTO).

National Family Farm Coalition, of which CAGJ is a member, put out the following statement, and our very own Northwest Farm Bill Action Group has some further analysis.

National Family Farm Coalition‘s statement on the Senate Farm Bill

Washington, DC – In early 2012 the National Family Farm Coalition urged swift passage of a farm bill to extend important programs expiring September 30 of this year. Instead, the Senate handed us a bill promoting policies that hurt farmers and consumers, favor agribusiness special interests, and offer no real, systemic reform for healthy food, farms and jobs. The reality of S. 3240 contrasts directly to the spin from USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack and many in Congress.

Touted as a symbol of bi-partisan cooperation, this pseudo solidarity actually reflects the secretive decision to allow no debate on several key amendments, itself a threat to our democracy. Among other actions, these amendments would have banned livestock ownership by meatpackers, expanded funding for traditional (non-biotech) crop research and increased support for critically needed minority outreach and education programs. S. 3240 cuts these funds from nearly $20 million to $5 million annually as it expands outreach to Veteran farmers. It also paves the way for the US to continue dumping and losing money on farm exports while violating any adequate standard of fair trade.

On the plus side, the bill expanded funding for farmers markets, community food projects, specialty crop block grants and EBT access to SNAP (supplemental nutrition assistance program) benefits. The bill also links conservation compliance to farmers with crop insurance and allows organic farmers to be covered under crop insurance at their retail, not wholesale, prices. However, the Senate bill adds another level of bureaucracy, privatizing the supposed ‘safety net’ by shifting direct payments allowed by WTO agreements to a corporate-controlled crop insurance payment program for grain and dairy farmers. There is no reserve policy at the farm, national or global level to stabilize prices or to help farmers, fishermen and rural communities facing disastrous weather or economic conditions, thereby promoting uncertainty while increasing profits for insurance companies.

We call on the House, the Senate and the Obama Administration to revisit their priorities and adopt a farm bill that promotes fair trade and food sovereignty; one that builds local and regional food systems and stops the assault on rural prosperity. Family farmers, fishermen and our communities need Congress to support our efforts to overcome past devastation and restore economic vitality. Our ability to contribute positively to the health and food security of our families, our communities and our nation is at stake.

Northwest Farm Bill Action Group reflects on what happened and what’s to come

by Amelia Swinton, NWFBAG
After weeks of debate, the United States Senate has passed a Farm Bill – or “Food & Farm Bill,” as many believe it should be called. First enacted over 80 years ago as a New Deal program to aid struggling farmers and feed hungry Americans, the Farm Bill has since evolved into our nation’s most influential piece of food and farming legislation. It sets and enforces the rules on what we eat, how much it costs, and under what conditions it is grown. The Senate’s Bill, which passed yesterday, boasts $23 billion in deficit reduction as it blueprints our food system over the next five years. Let’s take a closer look.

There is cause to celebrate, and this is largely thanks to the efforts of grassroots organizing and lobbying (including many of you!). The legislation eliminates direct payments to commodity farmers, which have been a blunt tool that overfund industrial, monocrop agriculture and disproportionately benefit the largest farms. Instead, there will be greater emphasis on need-based crop insurance, including more support for organic farms. Important to Washington growers are increased Specialty Crop Block Grants – industry jargon meaning more money for fruits and veggies. The Senate voted to double funding for Community Food Project grants, which levy federal money for community-level food system development and currently support several of our ally organizations: Lettuce Link, Clean Greens, and Seattle Tilth.
A new local fruit and vegetable program called the Hunger-Free Community Incentive Grants offers $100 million over five years to increase purchases by SNAP (food stamp) customers at farmers markets and other healthy food retailers. Another program would introduce a five-state Farm-to-School pilot project. Summarily, the Senate’s smorgasbord provides more support for rural economies, urban eaters’ access to healthy food, and equitable agricultural subsidies – all amidst a climate of funding cuts.

But there is also reason to grieve, as the Senate Bill made significant chops to the SNAP program. It is deeply troubling to see $4.5 billion in cuts to SNAP at a time when a record 46 million Americans are enrolled in this program, which is one of the few federal safety nets that expands and contracts based on need. According to the Community Food Security Coalition, these cuts will reduce benefits to approximately half a million food insecure families by $90 a month. Also disappointing were the underfunding of the Outreach and Assistance to Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers program and the failure of an amendment that would have required labeling for genetically engineered foods. Senator Parry Murray has acknowledged particular concern over the reduction of SNAP (food stamps). Both Murray and Senator Maria Cantwell were champions of economically stimulating and socially just Farm Bill reforms, and we encourage constituents to send their thanks.

What’s next?   …Read more on NW Food Fight’s Blog

Other analysis:

The Farm Bill Passes the Senate – and It’s Not All Bad News – grist.org

Community Food Security Coalition Supports Passage of the Farm Bill

National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition Backs Passage of Senate Farm Bill, Encourages Urgent House Action

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