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Blog Posts: Farm bill

December 21st, 2012

Farm Bill Update: Still on the Precipice of the Imaginary Cliff

By Patty Lovera

Patty Lovera

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…

December 7th, 2012

Farm Bill Update: A Fiscal Cliffhanger

Patty Lovera

Food & Water Watch Assistant Director Patty Lovera

By Patty Lovera

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 1st, 2012

Farm Bill Update: The Farm Bill Expires. Now What?

Patty Lovera

Food & Water Watch Assistant Director Patty Lovera

By Patty Lovera

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…

August 6th, 2012

Farm Bill Update: Congress Takes a Break from Their Fine Mess

By Patty Lovera

Patty Lovera

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.

The next step in a normal process would be for the full House to vote on the committee version and then for the House and Senate to hold a conference committee to reconcile their versions of the bill. (See post from July 12th for details on differences between the House committee and Senate versions.)

Read the full article…

July 25th, 2012

“The Story of Change” and Why We Can’t Shop Our Way to a Better Food System

By Katherine Boehrer 

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. 

But that’s just not right. When it comes to our food system, making good consumer choices does not outweigh our duty to act as responsible citizens. As Grist’s Twilight Greenaway put it, we need to “pat ourselves on the back and then move on to see what else we can do.”

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.  

July 12th, 2012

Farm Bill in Progress: House Ag Committee Farm Bill Fallout

By Patty Lovera

Patty Lovera

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…

July 11th, 2012

Farm Bill in Progress: The House Ag Committee Mark Up

By Patty Lovera

Patty Lovera

Food & Water Watch Assistant Director Patty Lovera

The House Agriculture Committee began marking up the farm bill today at 10:00 a.m. and proceeded all day with only a short break for the House health care vote. By 7:00p.m., the committee had considered about 40 amendments.

Most of today’s action was related to the nutrition title, which primarily funds the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as food stamps). The House Agriculture Committee Farm Bill cuts $16 billion from SNAP benefits, primarily by limiting eligibility. The Committee rejected an effort to make the cuts even steeper (by applying the draconian Ryan Budget cuts) but also rejected an effort to restore the SNAP cuts or use the lower level of $4 billion in cuts in the Senate Farm bill.

The Committee allowed for people with SNAP to use their benefits to purchase a share in community supported agriculture (CSA) local farms and approved an amendment to direct money to farmers market programs to increase access for SNAP recipients. The Committee also took up amendments to alter the sugar program (rejected), revisit the changes to the dairy reforms (rejected), keep open busy county USDA offices in the face of proposed closures (accepted), and new microloan program for beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers (accepted). Finally, past midnight, the Committee passed their version of the farm bill. Here’s a media statement we released about where we think Congress should go from here.

July 10th, 2012

Farm Bill In Progress: The House’s Turn

By Patty Lovera

Patty Lovera

Food & Water Watch Assistant Director Patty Lovera

Now that the Senate has finished its version of the farm bill, it’s the House’s turn. Tomorrow, July 11, the House Agriculture Committee is scheduled to begin its draft they’re calling the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act (FAARM, naturally). This “mark up” process starts with a draft of the bill that was released last week and will include debate on amendments offered by members of the committee.

The House version being considered by the committee has some significant differences from the version passed by the Senate besides its moniker. It maintains many existing 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 version makes much deeper cuts in nutrition programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, primarily by restricting who is eligible. Read the full article…

June 25th, 2012

Secrecy + Haste = Farm Bill Status Quo

By Wenonah Hauter

Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter

Late last week, the Senate passed its version of the Farm Bill – the sprawling legislation that dictates what and how we eat. From the perspective of consumer protection and leveling the playing field for small and midsized family farmers, the Senate bill does little to address the problems of consolidation and anti-competitive business practices that plague our food system.

Although the Senate bill made changes to commodity policy that will be touted as reform, the bill reinforced prior farm policies that favor large industrial-scale agriculture and overproduction of commodity crops like corn and soybeans. Only a few companies sell what farmers need (like seeds, fertilizer and tractors) and only a few firms buy what farmers raise, which means they pay more for supplies and get less for their crops and livestock. The four largest companies in each industry slaughter nearly all the beef, process two-thirds of the pork, sell half the groceries and process about half the milk in the United States. Read the full article…

June 21st, 2012

Senate Passes Farm Bill

By Patty Lovera

Patty Lovera, Assistant Director of Food & Water Watch

Today the Senate passed the 2012 farm bill, by a vote of 64 to 35. Lots of the votes against the bill came from southern senators who don’t like changes made in the commodity crop programs in the bill, which shifted many crops more heavily into crop insurance instead of government commodity programs.

Overall, this version of the farm bill amounts to a missed opportunity to tackle the root problem in our food system: consolidation and corporate control. The leadership of the Senate did not allow important amendments on antitrust issues, like one that would have banned meatpacker ownership of livestock, from being considered.

The last two amendments we were paying particular attention to today both failed. The debate on the amendment by Senators Sanders and Boxer (S. Amdt. 2310) to allow states to require labeling of genetically engineered foods was long overdue. This amendment received 26 votes with 73 Senators voting against it. Obviously, there’s much more work to be done to ensure our right to know what we’re eating, but the fact that this amendment initiated a debate on the Senate floor is a solid step in the right direction.

And finally, common sense prevailed as Senator Toomey’s amendment that would exempt community water systems from a requirement to mail drinking water consumer confidence reports (S. Amdt. 2247) FAILED. Food & Water Watch opposed this amendment.

The next step in the process is for the House to work on their version of the farm bill. The House Agriculture Committee is scheduled to begin work on the Farm Bill on July 11.

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