Confused about the Farm Bill? Click here to read our report, Farm Bill 101.
This week, both the House and Senate Agriculture committees adopted their versions of the 2013 Farm Bill. This is the latest move in the long-running attempt to pass a “normal” 5-year farm bill to replace one that was last passed in 2008. Several attempts to pass a farm bill in 2012 were unsuccessful and the farm bill that is currently in effect is a short-term extension that expires in September 2013.
There are some significant differences between the House and the Senate, in both what their bills actually contain and in the process used to get them through the committee. Both sides had an abbreviated process, skipping the normal step of conducting a series of hearings to explore various issues before writing the bill. But the Senate Agriculture Committee took the streamlining even further, managing to discuss, amend and pass its version of the bill in a little under three hours on Tuesday. The House Agriculture Committee finished theirs in a marathon session that took most of the day, wrapping up just before midnight Wednesday night.
Now each bill (HR 1947 and S 954) has to go to the floor for the whole body to vote on. The Senate is going first, with leadership claiming they will do the Farm Bill as early as next week. The full House may see their bill in June.
It’s time for another installment in the saga of the never-ending Farm Bill debate. In previous episodes, Congress passed a terrible bill to extend portions of the last Farm Bill as they tried to escape the “fiscal cliff” on New Year’s Day. That kept some parts of farm policy alive until the end of September, 2013, but abandoned important programs for organic and sustainable agriculture, conservation and beginning farmers.
And now, Congress is once again working to try to pass something before the short-term Farm Bill expires. Both the House and Senate Agriculture Committees say they will develop their versions of the bill this month (Exactly which day or week isn’t quite clear). The committees say they will “mark up” the bills quickly and get them out of committee so the full House and Senate can vote on them this summer.
At this stage of the game, we don’t know exactly what will be in the bills the committees work on. But we can make some predictions on what will need improving.
On competition, we will be urging the committees to include a ban on packer ownership of livestock, creation of a special counsel at USDA to deal with competition in agriculture markets, and to not include any measures that limit USDA’s ability to enforce rules on contracts for poultry growers that were in the 2008 Farm Bill.
There will once again be battles over the food safety net for low-income families, especially in the House, where there will likely be multiple attempts to make big cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as food stamps), the main federal nutrition program (background info on SNAP).
Organic and sustainable agriculture were victims of last year’s political gridlock, which allowed some important programs to expire and be abandoned by the last Farm Bill extension. This version of the bill should restore these programs for beginning farmers and ranchers and conservation. Specifically on organic agriculture, the bill should restore funding for the organic certification cost-share program (which helps operations that are new to organic pay for initial certification costs), and organic data collection and research programs at USDA.
Senator Gillibrand (D-NY) is offering an important addition to the Farm Bill that would require USDA to develop and implement a mechanism for employees of the Food Safety and Inspection Service to coordinate the reporting, evaluation, and abatement of potential occupational safety hazards. This is a critical improvement, given the recent news about health threats to workers and USDA inspectors in poultry plants due to the chemicals used to disinfect chickens. This problem will only get worse if the USDA is allowed to go forward with its proposal to deregulate poultry inspection and speed up the lines in poultry slaughterhouses, with likely increases in chemical use to pick up the slack.
Let your members of Congress know that you expect them to do a better job this time around on the Farm Bill. You can take action here: http://fwwat.ch/FBMay
Last week, a condensed version of Andy Bellatti’s interview with Wenonah Hauter on her new book Foodopoly ran on Grist: Aisle be damned: How Big Food dominates your supermarket choices. We thought our blog readers would appreciate seeing the entire interview, which goes into the specifics on how fractured our food system really is, how it got that way and what we can do about it.
1. In Foodopoly, you make a very convincing argument that, unlike what many in the “good food” movement think, crop subsidies are not the problem to solve, but rather the symptom of a much larger problem. Can you expand on that concept? Read the full article…
While the impending “fiscal cliff” kept Congress in the headlines long after they would normally leave town, there was one other item of unfinished business for 2012 – the Farm Bill.
In the wee hours of New Years Day, the Senate did vote on a bill that dealt with both the fiscal cliff and the Farm Bill. Kind of. As you’ve probably read by now, the Senate bill included a compromise package on taxes and put off pending federal spending limits for two months. It also included a nine month extension of parts of the expired 2008 Farm Bill (the extension would keep the bill running for the rest of Fiscal Year 2013, which ends at the end of September).
This Farm Bill extension ignores a proposal from the leadership of both the House and Senate Agriculture Committees and was the result of negotiations between Vice President Biden and Senate Minority Leader McConnell. The passage of an extension of the 2008 Farm Bill ends months of speculation about what would happen after the unprecedented decision by Congress to allow the last Farm Bill to expire in the fall. But the drama isn’t over yet.
As we discussed earlier, when the 2008 Farm Bill expired a bunch of good programs expired with it including support for beginning farmers, conservation practices and cost sharing for new organic certifications. Unfortunately, the extension included in the Senate fiscal cliff bill does not include these programs, so they will be left behind. Read the full article…
Food & Water Watch Assistant Director Patty Lovera
The breaking news on the farm bill is that there really isn’t any actual news. There are rumors (so many rumors…), theories, shifting scenarios, and an abundance of opinions, but no concrete progress or clear path forward.
To recap: the 2008 Farm Bill expired at the end of September. The full Senate passed their version of a new Farm Bill in April; the House bill made it out of the Agriculture Committee but has not been passed by the full House. We’re out of time in this Congress for the bill to pass in a normal fashion (passage by the full House and then using a conference committee to negotiate the differences between the House and Senate versions).
This Congress only has a few days left and their main priority is to deal with the supposed ‘fiscal cliff.’ There is much debate about whether a fiscal cliff bill would serve as a vehicle for attaching some farm bill package – whether that is a full farm bill or an extension of the 2008 farm bill. If that happens (and that seems to be a pretty big if), it’s not clear yet whether the language would come from the House or the Senate versions of the farm bill, or some combination.
So with that crystal-clear prediction of what’s next, here’s one more complicated nugget to chew on: what happens if nothing happens by the end of the year? Since the last farm bill expired several months ago, what is happening with all the programs that the farm bill creates? We talked about some of the important conservation and sustainable farming programs that are left behind until a new farm bill re-establishes them, but there are other delayed impacts that took a few months to come into play. Read the full article…
Understandably, readers of our blog have been asking for an update on the Farm Bill. As I reported back in October, dealing with the largest single piece of food and agriculture legislation is still on Congress’s to-do list before the end of the year. But as you’ve probably heard, they have a few other critical issues to deal with before the end of the year, including tax cuts and the deficit reduction deadline, a.k.a the imaginary Fiscal Cliff. And the outcome of the Farm Bill is tied to these negotiations going on right now in Congress.
Leadership from the House and Senate agriculture committees are reportedly working to find things they can agree on so they might be able to attach some form of a new Farm Bill or an extension of all or pieces of the 2008 Farm Bill to a tax bill, deficit reduction, or some other Fiscal Cliff measure. Stay tuned for a more in-depth analysis of farm bill negotiations next week.
October 1 is an important date around Washington, DC, because it’s the first day of the government’s fiscal year. So for the federal government, it is now 2013.
While that might seem irrelevant unless you’re an accountant, it does matter for how government agencies run their programs. And like so many things happening in D.C. this year, budgets have not been done in a normal process. One thing Congress did manage to do before leaving town was to deal (kind of) with the budget situation, by passing a “continuing resolution” that extends the 2012 budget for another six months instead of passing a new one. This means they will have to re-examine the budgets for the rest of 2013 after the election, in the new Congress. (And this will happen after the budget cuts required by last year’s deficit reduction deal, called “sequestration,” kicks in. Which is a topic for a different day.)
But one thing that did NOT get done was to pass a new Farm Bill. And the 2008 Farm Bill expired yesterday. We are now running without a Farm Bill, a situation that most ag policy veterans swore would never happen because it was just too disruptive to contemplate. But here we are. Read the full article…
Food & Water Watch Assistant Director Patty Lovera
After a spring and early summer full of endless rumors, a whole lot of political posturing, and a couple marathon days of hearings and votes, Congress is headed home for August recess… without passing the 2012 Farm Bill.
The full Senate passed its version of the Farm Bill in June and the House Agriculture Committee passed its version of the bill in mid-July. The current Farm Bill (passed in 2008) does not expire until September 30th, so it is possible for Congress to finish the process and pass a new bill when they come back into session in September.
When I first saw Annie Leonard’s “Story of Stuff” I was amazed at how eloquently she laid out the problems with our consumer system — but I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what I could do about it. I still needed “stuff” — I needed food, clothes, textbooks, and a bunch of other things. So I tried to buy the best kinds of “stuff”, from local, vegetarian food to fair trade coffee and non-toxic detergent.
Those are all great steps to take, as Leonard is quick to point out. The problems begin, however, when we believe those are the only things we can do (or have time to do). Some may even believe that by making the right personal choices, we absolve ourselves from any further action.
The “Story of Change” tells us what’s next. The short video shifts the question from “how can I buy better?” to “how can we change the system?” so that toxic and unfair choices no longer exist. Change, the film says, requires a Big Idea, a commitment to work together and, most importantly, action. Taking action, like voting, organizing, and coming together to influence decision makers, is what Leonard calls flexing our “citizen muscle”.
The concept of “voting with our dollars” reinforces the idea that the only power we have is financial power. If we’re only concerned about what we buy, it’s easy to forget that we have another kind of power — people power. People power is even more potent than purchasing power. By bringing together a group of individuals committed to changing the status quo, we are able to bring about systemic change. The kind of change that is far-reaching and long-lasting, not confined to our individual lifestyles.
Food & Water Watch’s executive director, Wenonah Hauter, champions this sentiment in her upcoming book Foodopoly:
“If we don’t confront and change the consolidation and corporate control of our food system, only a very small percentage of people will benefit from the good food movement. We can’t shop our way out of this mess” [emphasis mine].
So we must ask ourselves, with these kinds of problems can we afford to sit back and take the easy way out? There are lots of ways to get involved. As Leonard points out, bringing change doesn’t have to mean going to a protest. If you’d like to get more involved, visit our action center to flex your citizen muscle, or sign up to volunteer for a cause you’re passionate about.
Katherine Boehrer is a Food & Water Watch summer communications intern and a junior at Cornell University.
Food & Water Watch Assistant Director Patty Lovera
The House Agriculture Committee adopted its version of the 2012 farm bill, the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act (FAARM), early Thursday morning after an all day session to “mark up” the bill with amendments. Here’s a media statement on what we think about the bill.
The House committee’s farm bill has some significant differences from what the Senate passed last month. It maintains commodity crop programs that make payments for farmers based on crop price, while the Senate version ends those programs and shifts commodity producers to a crop insurance model. Both the House and Senate versions do away with direct payments to commodity crop producers, a type of payment that is not tied to market conditions or actual production.
The House Ag Committee bill, approved by a 35 to 11 vote, would cut the commodity title by $14 billion, the conservation title by $6 billion and the nutrition title by $16.5 billion. This is in comparison to the Senate version that cuts $15 billion in the commodity title, $6 billion in conservation and $4.5 billion in nutrition programs. Read the full article…
Food & Water Watch works to ensure the food, water and fish we consume is safe, accessible and sustainable. So we can all enjoy and trust in what we eat and drink, we help people take charge of where their food comes from, keep clean, affordable, public tap water flowing freely to our homes, protect the environmental quality of oceans, force government to do its job protecting citizens, and educate about the importance of keeping shared resources under public control.