Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Guest Essay: Time to Zero in on the Farm Bill

This opinion piece from Congressman Earl Blumenauer, released on June 14, 2018, states that both the House and Senate versions of the Farm Bill—both have since passed their respective versions—maintain a deeply flawed status quo and weaken support for healthy food and sustainable farming. Blumenauer believes there is a better path forward. Please consider contacting your representatives in the Senate and the House regarding this issue.

Health care, climate change, economic development, and jobs are some of the major issues at the heart of current American politics. And there’s major legislation making its way through Congress right now that impacts all of these areas and every American who eats. Yet, most people know nothing about it.

Bigger isn't better.

The farm bill has flown under the radar for too long, with large agribusinesses and their lobbyists exercising an outsized influence on our nation’s food and farm policy while the rest of the country is left fighting for crumbs. That is, unless more people raise their voices.

As Congress works to reauthorize a new farm bill by September 30 [of 2018], it’s time for everyone to wake up and get involved.

Sadly, our current food and farm policies fail to meet the needs of the American people. We pay too much to the wrong people to grow the wrong food in the wrong places. The federal government spends an exorbitant amount of taxpayer dollars to help the wealthiest and most powerful agriculture operations get bigger and more profitable. Recent data shows that the bill’s high dollar farm subsidy programs paid the same 28,000 farmers $19 billion for 32 straight years.

Family farms mean business.

Meanwhile, small and medium-sized farmers and ranchers, the environment, and American families receive too little attention, too little concern, and too little help. This is unacceptable.

This Congress, unfortunately, only promises more of the same, and in some cases it has been working to make the situation worse.

In May, Republican leadership tried to force its farm bill through the House of Representatives. The legislation failed in a highly partisan, dramatic vote on the floor of the House. Several far-right Republicans, who want draconian changes to U.S. immigration policy, voted no. And every Democrat was unified in opposition to the bill’s blatant attack on those in need.

Everyone wins when everyone has access to good food.

The controversial bill drastically cuts Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, enacts burdensome requirements for recipients, and forces them to attend an untested, unproven job-training program with strict penalties. While these cruel policies alone should be enough to defeat the House Republican farm bill, they are only the most obvious of many egregious provisions in the bill.

The House bill takes the “savings” from cutting programs benefiting the neediest Americans and puts much of it in the hands of corporate farms, helping them get even richer, all in the name of the farm “safety net.” But current farm subsidy programs are less of a safety net and more of a corporate welfare program. The House bill doubled down by creating new loopholes for those who don’t need more help. For example, a farmer’s nieces, nephews, or cousins who do not even live or work on the farm would become eligible for additional farm subsidies.

Sustainable farms benefit our health, our communities and our environment.

Rather than investing in family farmers who grow real and healthy foods, the legislation helps large operations grow six commodity crops—many of which we already have in excess and are made into unhealthy processed foods. The bill also shortchanges farmers’ markets and local food promotion programs. All of this together puts Americans at greater risk of health problems, such as diabetes and obesity. We are subsidizing a diet that is literally making Americans sick.

The House bill also threatens our environment by further removing incentives for farmers to protect sensitive land. It puts wildlife habitat and water quality at risk. Rather than offering meaningful reforms such as rewarding performance-based conservation, the bill instead proposes drastic cuts to urgently needed conservation programs while failing to do enough for sustainable farming practices.

One of the most outrageous provisions in the bill is the King amendment, which guts consumer, environmental, and animal welfare protections and allows any state with strong standards to be undercut by states with weaker protections. The Harvard Law School’s analysis of the provision should be deeply disturbing for those who want states to have the power to protect their residents.

Read the rest of the article posted on Civil Eats.

[Since Rep. Blumenauer wrote this, the deeply misguided House version described above passed on June 21, 2018, by a razor-thin margin of 213 to 211. The Senate version passed on June 28, 2018. Both houses of Congress need to vote on a final reconciled version by Sept. 30th. Please consider sharing your opinion on this critical legislation with your representatives in the Senate and the House.

Read Rep. Blumenauer's follow-up statement on the House and Senate-passed versions of the bill. For an explanation of the provisions of each version of the Farm Bill and what is required for passage, read the National Journal's excellent explainer.

Read my interview with Rep. Blumenauer on his solutions to the challenges facing Oregon and the nation's food system.

Posted with permission.

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