The Secret Farm Bill

7 Nov

Seems like it’s been too long since I’ve addressed any food policy here on We*Meat*Again, and here’s a doozy for us to get angry over together: the imminent passing/announcement of a “secret” farm bill, likely to become public this week. I’ll let the experts explain what this is, and why it’s troubling.

Normally, the U.S. Congress must renew Farm Bill legislation every five years to designate the budget for agricultural programs such as direct payment subsidies, nutritional programs (like Food Stamps and WIC) and conservation easements. As the food movement heats up, the Farm Bill has become a more and more controversial piece of legislation, as it largely dictates the financial direction of federal food policy into large-scale industrial agriculture.

So this year, to avoid that public debate, agricultural lobbyists in conjunction with representatives from Midwestern farming states are using the deficit-reducing “supercommittee” (created last summer because Congress couldn’t get it together to raise the debt ceiling) to write the 2012 Farm Bill behind closed doors.

Writing the Farm Bill in this way pre-empts any chance at reform. If representatives whose campaigns are paid for by Big Ag outfits write legislation, we’re unlikely to see a shift in food policy. Proposals currently being considered focus the spending cuts mostly on nutrition, conservation and environmental protection policies.

But setting aside for a moment what may or may not actually become legislative reality, the real egregiousness of this choice comes from the complete absence of any public debate. Anyone without a voice on this committee has no say in this important legislation. The San Francisco Gate has observed that this approach excludes the entire state of California, the country’s single largest agricultural producer, but on an even more fundamental level, it simply does not include “we the people” at all.

This OxFam editorial summarizes the problem best, by explaining how we all — Republicans, Democrats, etc. — should be able to come together to protest this end-run around democracy:

If you’re a Tea Party supporter, you probably shouldn’t like this deal because:

1. It is a back room deal negotiated without any public scrutiny.
2. It cuts less wasteful spending than other proposals.
3. The $23 billion in proposed cuts could shrink dramatically if the volatile agriculture markets or increasingly volatile weather swings production or prices in a new direction.
4. It authorizes the government to pick certain industries/commodities as winners over others.

If you’re an #OWS supporter, you shouldn’t like this deal because:
1. It was negotiated to satisfy high powered industry lobbies that pay lots of money to influence the Ag Committee.
2. It’s a giveaway to big industrial farms at the expense of family farmers.
3. It promotes unhealthy, unsustainable farming practices at the expense of sustainable farming.
4. It targets conservation and nutrition programs for cuts disproportionately.

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