Monday, June 10, 2013

Food Justice? Not Hardly!

The USA Senate just passed a major agricultural bill, amounting to billions of dollars over the course of the next several years. What are the ramifications of this Bill?
 (Note:  The U.S. House on June 20, 2013, failed to pass its own bill after Tea Party style Republicans added cuts to food stamps that totaled about 2 Billion Dollars, cuts which caused Democrats to withdraw support for the bill.  An article about that is HERE.  This blog post is about the Senate bill, which has more chance of being made law because it is bipartisan.)

Photo by Author.
Hint: these healthy veggies are not among the categories of
 crop supported by USA Agricultural policy


Current US Agriculture policy favors industrial farms at the expense of small family enterprises. What is known in common lingo as "red tape" is rampant for those seeking subsidies, requiring significant expertise and resources to participate at a base level in the subsidy system. U.S. Agriculture policy also favors commodity crops (soybeans, corn, cotton, wheat, tobacco) and offers no or little help for those who produce more diverse crops such as fruits and vegetables. This is manifested not only in crop subsidies for the commodity crops, but also by the fact that crop insurance is not available for non-commodity crops.  There is also a generalized lack of support for small scale farms (which characterize the non-commodity crops), lack of support for farmers who wish to switch out of commodity into more diversified areas of growing, and lack of support for farmers who wish to experiment with more diverse or unorthodox methods of growing such as organic farming or sustainable (non-chemical) agricultural practices.

The Bill as passed by the Senate, contains no surprises.  It is described by the Associated Press as "likely to benefit Midwestern corn and soybean farmers, who use crop insurance more than other farmers. The bill would also boost subsidies for Southern rice and peanut farmers, lowering the threshold for those farms to receive government help."  (For link see HERE.)  It does not assist farmers who raise more diverse, non-commodity crops such as veggies and fruit.

As a result of this policy, commodity crops are relatively inexpensive as compared with diverse farming products.  As documentary films such as Food, Inc. show, subsidies of commodity crops which emphasize bulk calories over nutrition has also made it cheaper to eat a McDonalds hamburger than to eat a nutritious meal of fruits and vegetables, contributing to an epidemic of obesity among those who must eat on a frugal budget.  We Americans are what we eat, and what we eat is largely a matter driven by U.S. agricultural policy.*

The present agricultural bill amounts to 500 Billion Dollars over a period of years.  With a huge amount of money at stake, and food production which has global consequences, the stakes are high and so is the interest by large, monied and powerful lobbying groups. As with any large and significant legislation, there are many competing interests. Unfortunately, powerful, large Agricultural conglomerates have much more lobbying clout than John and Jane Doe Family farmer. Who will look out for the small, family farmer? Virtually no one, it seems. As a result, small family farming is disappearing throughout the USA.  This is in sharp contrast to countries, such as France, which have made policy decisions designed to support small family farms and make it a viable career option for young people.

(There is one group I know of  that is dedicated to looking out for the interests of small farmers, and that is the group FLAG (Farmers Legal Action Group).  Their web site is HERE.  FLAG is a group of attorneys who formed a nonprofit which is devoted to helping small family farmers stay on their land.  Their web site has a significant amount of information on various issues and policies. Additionally, donations are gratefully accepted HERE.)

Currently, distaste for support of large, agricultural conglomerates contributes to a generalized public disfavor for farm subsidies. I hope Americans will not, as a matter of public policy, throw the baby out with the bathwater. Agriculture is important.  Agricultural policy needs to support farmers. But agricultural policy also needs to support sustainability, agricultural diversity, and small family farms.  I hope Americans will realize that not all farm support is bad, it just needs to be focused in a better way.  Food is important to people.  Good agriculture policy will be not only be sustainable, wholesome, and life affirming, with regard to farming practices, it will also support and sustain more people in a healthier way.  Which leads to the link between agriculture subsidies and food policy.  The full scope of these links is beyond the scope of this blog post.  Nevertheless, USDA agriculture policy is closely linked with policy related to food and alleviation of hunger in the USA.


Intertwined as food policy is with food production, USA food policy is a major portion of what is generically referred to as the Farm Bill.   Indeed, it is the major financial outlay of the Farm Bill.  The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as Food Stamps, makes up about 80% of the financial outlay for the Farm Bill . Presently in the USA, about one in 7 people relies on food stamps for food subsidies (see AP news Article, HERE).  The present bill, in an effort to appease hard line cost cutters, cuts funding for those food programs.  It also makes no significant effort to assist growers of fruits and vegetables in moving their produce to market, which might serve to improve the nutritional status of low income folk.

Anti hunger lobbyists are deeply disappointed in the cuts for food assistance. According to one secondary source (cited HERE), eighty-three percent of all SNAP benefits go to households with a child, senior, or disabled person. Another 83 percent of SNAP households have gross income at or below 100 percent of the poverty guideline ($19,530 for a family of three in 2013).

This is just a taste of what is in a very large and complex piece of legislation.  I would like to encourage all people to become more educated with the issues and the bill. The attached link HERE is a resource compiled by FLAG as part of their public service effort.

Please take the time to learn more!

*Another documentary film, Forks Over Knives, presents strong evidence how U.S. food policy has been influenced by industrial agricultural interests with regard to how Americans are taught to think about nutrition and diet, resulting in epidemic levels of obesity and heart disease.  

1 comment:

  1. There really is a conspiracy here to keep people unhealthy.


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