I suspect few people in the U.S. even know what is known as a “Farm Bill” has to be passed by Congress. Periodically, this massive legislation – once enacted – guides federal agriculture policy. The Environmental Working Group wants to make sure folks know as much as they can about the legislation. Congress rewrites the farm bill, which drives federal spending for farm, nutrition and conservation, every five years or so. It may be the only important piece of environmental legislation that Congress is almost certain to enact over the next 18 months, according to EWG. In just a single year – 2010 – farm bill programs spent $96.3 billion. With so much on the table, EWG has a list of important things folks should know about the farm bill:
• The farm bill doles out billions of taxpayer dollars in subsidies to the largest five commodity crops: corn, cotton, rice, wheat and soybeans. Those payments go out, regardless of need, and they mostly fail to help the nation’s real working farm and ranch families. In fact, since 1995, just 10 percent of subsidized farms – the largest and wealthiest operations – have raked in 74 percent of all subsidy payments. Also, 62 percent of farmers in the United States did not collect subsidy payments, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
• The Obama Administration says fruits and vegetables should fill about half of our plates during meal times. Yet, only a tiny fraction of the farm bill funding goes to programs that support healthy fruits and vegetables, and many of these programs have no budget going into the next farm bill, which is up for renewal in 2012.
• Some 90,000 checks went out to wealthy investors and absentee land owners in more than 350 American cities in 2010, despite the so-called “actively engaged” rule adopted in the 2008 farm bill. This rule was designed to ensure that federal payments go only to those who are truly working the land. It hasn’t worked.
• A handful of other commodities also qualify for government support, including peanuts, sorghum and mohair. Dairy and sugar producers have separate price and market controls that are highly regulated and can be costly to the government.
• The flawed subsidy system creates perverse incentives for farmers to grow as much industrial-scale, fertilizer- and pesticide-intensive crops as possible, with harmful effects on our environment and drinking water – and the availability of organic food in grocery stores.
Some of our readers may want to discuss the Farm Bill with their senators and representatives. I have always believed that some of our government’s priorities may need some adjustment when it comes to setting agriculture policy for our nation.
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