The new, five-year Farm Bill has finally emerged from Congress, and it’s a last chance to put in your two cents.
What is the Farm Bill? The Farm Bill is one of the single most destructive pieces of legislation in the nation. Here is a handy infographic from GOOD magazine that explains it, and if you prefer narrative, here’s a good summary from the New York Times. You can also learn more from the Environmental Working Group, a 20-year old non-profit, and here in Seattle from the Northwest Farm Bill Action Group.
Many people have no idea that the US Government subsidizes farmers from everything from corn to honey. Sounds great–a safety net to cover lean years of production. It worked, for 40 years. But what has happened since the 70s is a distortion of this idea, so that today, what happens is this: a few corporate farms working corn, soybeans, and wheat, mostly in the midwest, get billions of dollars of handouts. Much of their crop goes to waste, or is used for things nature did not intend (feeding corn to cattle, for instance). This legislation affects the way the world’s entire food chain works–or doesn’t.
People (and even local governments) in Seattle and across the United States have been anticipating the new Farm Bill and working to make it better–so it can help more farmers, address environmental concerns, and not waste so much money. But their efforts have been mostly ignored: the current legislation simply presents more of the same–huge handouts to multinational corporations.
WHAT TO DO
Contact your Senator. The bill in debate is the US Senate’s Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2012 (S. 3240), otherwise known as the Senate’s version of the Farm Bill. The Senate will make edits and amendments before sending the bill to the House of Representatives, and then (if it passes) to President Obama. The best way to affect the bill now is to get your Senator to listen to you, and not to a company who does not care about you.
Who is my Senator? Find out here. It’s better to call, because it takes staff time and therefore energy from the office to listen to you. Ask for the Agriculture Legislative Assistant. If you are in Washington State, your senators are
- Senator Maria Cantwell: 202-224-3441 (Ask for Agriculture Legislative Assistant, Paul Wolfe). If you must write, you can do so here.
- Senator Patty Murray: 202-224-2621 (Ask for Agriculture Legislative Assistant, Adam Goodwin). If you must write, you can do so here.
What do I say? Here are some good talking points (adapted from the Community Alliance for Global Justice):
The Farm Bill includes some steps to scale up cultivation and distribution of healthy foods, but it doesn’t go far enough. Tell your Senator:
I’m concerned about the Farm Bill—that it doesn’t do enough to prioritize small farmers, healthy food, taxpayers, and the environment. Please support these amendments to the proposed Farm Bill:
- Cap crop-insurance subsidies and require farmers who receive them to meet conservation requirements. This will save billions of taxpayer dollars and protect the environment;
- Restore full funding for SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly called food stamps) to make sure families have access to nutritious food;
- Include full mandatory funding for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program and the Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers Program to help keep America farming;
- Support alternatives to genetically-engineered plant varieties by reserving 5% of research funding for classical plant breeding;
- Include a ban on packer ownership of livestock to limit consolidation in the meat industry.
It will take you 15 minutes or less to make these two calls. If enough of us do it, we might get to eat healthy food that is intended to nourish people and the planet. Worth 15 minutes, isn’t it? Call your Senator today!