Help Get Nutritious & Healthy Foods In The Farm Bill

Help Get Nutritious & Healthy Foods In The Farm Bill

Wed 30 May 2012

Story by Kari Hamerschlag

On April 20th the Senate Agriculture Committee approved a farm bill draft that falls short of providing the farm and food policies Americans want.

The “Farm Bill” is the most important law determining what America eats. The bill, which spends about $100 billion a year, dictates the types of crops that are grown, how we grow and sell food, how we support farmers, and what food assistance programs are available to all Americans.

In a national poll last year, 78 percent said making nutritious and healthy foods more affordable and accessible should be a top priority in the farm bill. Yet the bill approved by the Senate Agriculture Committee does not represent this.

The proposed bill, under the leadership of Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) provides some modest new funding for local and healthy food programs, including a local food promotion program and a new incentive program that will double the value of food assistance dollars when used for healthy food purchases. Several provisions from the Local Farms Food and Jobs Act.

Despite these important gains, the large agribusiness as usual proposal will continue to give away subsidies worth tens of billions of taxpayer dollars to the largest most profitable commodity crop growers and agribusinesses while drastically underfunding programs that support fruits and vegetables and local and healthy food.

That’s exactly what Americans in the poll said they don’t want. If you are one of those 78% of American’s, now is the time to let your representative know that you want more of your tax dollars funding healthy food programs in the farm bill.

Support for healthy food programs pales in comparison to the $140 billion in subsidies that will flow to the big five commodity crops (corn, soy, cotton, rice and wheat) that provide feed for livestock, raw material for processed food and corn ethanol fuel for our cars. In recent years, the farm bill has spent eight times more on commodity crops than on fruits and vegetables. This trend is expected to continue in this new farm bill.

Meanwhile, millions of consumers lack access to affordable fruits and vegetables, with the result that the diets of fewer than 5 percent of adults meet the USDA’s daily nutrition guidelines.

Now that the bill has passed out of the Senate Agriculture Committee, it will go to the Senate floor where Senators will debate and offer amendments to the bill before taking a full vote likely in early June.

Is the Senate ag panel’s bill the best we can do?

Or do you want to help make sure that tens of millions of kids get a shot at forming a healthier eating habit by serving them fresh fruits and vegetables at school? You’ll support farmers who grow that food in the bargain.

The farm bill heading to the Senate floor contains only $150 million annually to provide school children with a healthy fruit and vegetable snack– only enough for children in 4,500 or 6 per cent of our elementary schools.

There will be lots proclaiming that this is the best that can be expected in the current fiscal climate. But if the goal is to save money and invest wisely, it makes no sense to give away unlimited crop insurance premium subsidies to wealthy farm operators at the expense of feeding hungry people, protecting our water and investing in healthy food.

In fact, the Government Accountability Office has identified as much as $2 billion a year in available savings from modest cuts to crop insurance subsidies. Half would come from payment limits that affect just 4 percent of the growers in the program. The Senate should use these savings to more adequately fund nutrition programs and strengthen local and healthy food and organic agriculture. These investments could save billions in the long run by creating jobs and reducing health care costs.

Some Senators understand this and will likely be introducing an amendment to redirect billions of dollars from commodity crops into healthy food and nutrition programs.

Please send a general message of support for healthy food to your representative by clicking here.

The bill still has a way to go before it becomes law. Once the bill gets voted out of the Senate, it will then go on to the House of Representatives where they are expected to write and approve their version of the bill. If the two bodies are then able to negotiate a compromise, there would likely be a final farm bill enacted into law before the previous bill expires in late September 2012.

About the author: Kari Hamerschlag is the Senior Food and Agriculture Analyst for the Environmental Working Group (EWG).


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