Farm Bill Update
By Patty Lovera
Yesterday, the Senate Agriculture Committee passed its version of the 2012 farm bill. The next step in the process is for the bill to go to the Senate floor. We do not know when that will happen, although the Chair of the committee, Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan), says it will be in “a few weeks.”
Overall, this is not the fair farm bill we have been fighting for, although there are a few bright spots (mostly on existing programs that were threatened but survived.) The Senate bill cuts support for nutrition programs that feed the neediest families, fails to provide an adequate safety net for farmers when prices are low and costs are high, and does nothing to address the power of big agribusiness over farmers and consumers. While it increased funding for some local food systems and organic farm programs, the funding for these programs remains about one out of every thousand dollars spent by this bill.
The Senate Agriculture committee kept the bill secret for months and only released it to the public less than a week before it was passed out of committee. Over a hundred amendments were listed when the committee met to consider the bill, however many of them were never introduced for a vote. Some of the potential amendments would have been dramatic improvements to the bill, such as Senator Grassley’s packer ban amendment and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s (D-New York) amendment to fund research into non-GE seeds and animal breeds, but these were not put up for a vote.
Commodities: The new farm bill eliminates some and rewrites other commodity programs. The changes mostly focus on providing $2.7 billion more in taxpayer subsidies for crop insurance over the next decade, funding that ultimately ends up in the pockets of crop insurance companies, not farmers. Food & Water Watch supports a program like the strategic petroleum reserve for commodities that would ensure that farmers were paid more than it cost to produce their crops, and according to the University of Tennessee, would save money and protect farm incomes. This reserve program was not included in the Senate bill.
Competition: The Senate committee version of the bill fails to protect farmers and consumers from the monopoly power in the food supply – the tiny number of giant meatpackers, food processors and retailers that drive down prices for farmers and reduce choices for consumers. Senator Chuck Grassley’s (R-Iowa) amendment to ban meatpacker ownership of livestock would have been an important addition to the bill that would have tackled a key piece of the competition issue, but the amendment was not put up for a vote.
Conservation: The bill makes significant cuts to conservation programs that could allow about 9 million acres currently in the two main conservation programs to return to full production and fails to close a loophole in a conservation program called EQIP that targets 60 percent of the funding for factory livestock farms to deal with their excessive amounts of manure.
Nutrition: The bill cuts $4 billion from nutrition programs like food stamps over the next decade, primarily by making it harder for lower-income families to qualify for nutrition programs.
The bill can still be amended when it goes to the Senate floor and the “managers amendment” (written by Senator Stabenow) can alter the bill before it goes to the floor.
Find out why we’re working to make the farm bill fair for farmers and consumers here.