The (Food and) Farm Bill: What America Eats

The (Food And) Farm Bill: What America Eats

Mon 19 Dec 2011

Story by The Food Revolution Team

Farm Bill Background

The “Farm Bill” is the most important law determining what America eats. Once every five years Congress negotiates this massive piece of legislation that impacts all dimensions of farming, food, and nutrition for kids and adults in America.

Discussion is starting right now on the 2012 Farm Bill, and we have historic opportunities to help get more fresh, local food to families and schools, and to jumpstart community food programs like farmers markets.

Critical Parts of the Farm Bill

The two largest sections of the Farm Bill deal with Nutrition and Commodities. Each is expected to undergo significant reforms and budget cuts this time around.

The largest chunk of the Farm Bill is Nutrition, mostly the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly called “Food Stamps.” SNAP is currently providing benefits to 46 million Americans – nearly 15% of the country. It’s a big safety net in this economic downturn. But the SNAP safety net faces $4 billion in proposed cuts. The Nutrition section also includes education about healthy eating for SNAP recipients, programs that enhance access and participation in farmers markets, and programs to enhance fruit and veg consumption.

The Commodities section of the Farm Bill focuses on subsidies, which are government payments to American farmers, historically to prevent against severe losses and market downturns. The vast majority of subsidies get paid to 5 major commodity crops: corn, cotton, rice, wheat, and soybeans. Some of these are eaten, but many of them become animal feed or food additives, like corn syrup. Subsidies are important and controversial, and both parties support major reforms in 2012. The farm bill also has important money for crop insurance and research.

In the Farm Bill, programs for fruits and vegetables are relegated to a status known as “specialty crops.”Crazy, right? Financial support for them is much smaller, but they are something that the Food Revolution believes is critically important. The Farm Bill also sets the terms for vitally important programs for Organic Agriculture, land Conservation, and Rural Development.

When it comes to schools, we want to strengthen:

• The “Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program” that brings those items as snacks to needy schools

• Systems that make it easy for school systems to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables, with a preference for local produce

• Programs that make it easier for local farmers to sell to schools

Does it make more sense now how important the Farm Bill is to kids and families?

The Process

As you might expect, different interest groups have very different desired outcomes in the Farm Bill, and they lobby hard in a process that typically takes a full year. It is vital that this process, which has long favored the profits of big agriculture, represents the voices of America’s eaters. That’s all of us Food Revolutionaries - especially parents and kids.

In coming weeks, we will share more about what’s happening on the Farm Bill, including what went down in the deficit “Supercommittee” and the big ideas in the “Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act” currently circulating in Washington.

The Food Revolution is here to simplify the Farm Bill and help you make your voice heard!

The Food Revolution Team

To learn more:

• Quick NPR history of the Farm Bill
Overview from Farm Aid explaining Farm Bill basics
• A clever PSA video from Parent Earth, “Parents Stand Up for Food”

Images: From the House Committee on Agriculture. Black and white image from the Quick NPR history of the Farm Bill


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