September 19, 2012

Farm Bill Update: Things Have Gotten Weird. ~ Patty Lovera

Congress Continues to Kick the Can Down the Road

Things have gotten weird—make that weirder—which for this Farm Bill cycle is really saying something. Here’s what’s going on.

The current Farm Bill (passed in 2008) expires at the end of September 2012. Congress has not yet passed a new version of the bill. And they plan to leave town at the end of the week and not come back until after the election.

So passing a new Farm Bill is at the top of the to-do list for this week, right? Not exactly. The next move in the process belongs to the House, which needs to vote on the version of the bill the House Agriculture Committee adopted in July (the full Senate passed their version of the bill in June). But the bill is not on the House schedule for this week.

Short of passing a new Farm Bill, Congress could adopt an extension to the 2008 bill, giving themselves more time to come up with a new bill but keeping most existing farm policy in effect (there are some serious downsides to passing an extension, including several good programs for conservation, organic, and beginning farmers that do not continue, even with an extension of the 2008 bill).

They could pass a stand-alone bill to address the need for “disaster programs” to help farmers and livestock producers deal with the drought that is wreaking havoc in large parts of the country. The House passed a disaster bill before leaving town for the August recess, but it would pay for disaster assistance to livestock producers by taking money from conservation programs that have already been drastically cut in recent budgets. The Farm Bill passed by the Senate includes disaster provisions, so the Senate is not very motivated to move on the House disaster proposal.

Or they could let the current Farm Bill expire, which means that farm policy automatically reverts to a 1949 version of the Farm Bill, a drastic change from current policy.

For years, this was always presented as some kind of nuclear-option, with consequences for the food system that were so dire that no one would ever allow it to happen. Now, members on both sides of the aisle are floating expiration as a trial balloon and mapping out how long it would take before programs like dairy payments, commodity payments, or food stamps are affected (the answer is different for all of them, due to specifics of how those programs are set up and funded, but these large programs would not be affected immediately).

So by the end of the week, we’ll know whether Congress will allow the current Farm Bill to expire, or whether they will pass an extension to give themselves more time. Either way, the Farm Bill will be on the growing list of issues they have to deal with when they come back for a lame-duck session after the election.

How we can make a difference:

Sign the Good Food Starts with a Fair Farm Bill petition.

Here’s what it says:

Our current food system is broken, and it didn’t happen by accident. It’s time for a new farm bill that creates a healthy food system. Please support these actions in the next farm bill:

-Level the playing field for farmers
-Make markets fair for farmers and consumers
-Ensure food security by restoring the grain reserve
-Make healthy food accessible for all people
-Rebuild local infrastructure for regional food systems
-Make smart government food purchases
-Support new sustainable farming programs
-Promote environmental stewardship
-Require full safety reviews and labeling of GE foods
-Stop subsidizing factory farms and dangerous technologies

Adapted from “Farm Bill Update: Congress Continues to Kick the Can Down the Road.”

Patty Lovera is the Assistant Director for Food & Water Watch, an organization that works to ensure the food, water and fish we consume is safe, accessible and sustainably produced. So we can all enjoy and trust in what we eat and drink, food & water watch helps 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 the global commons—our shared resources—under public control. Learn more at foodandwaterwatch.org.


Editor: Lynn Hasselberger

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