At long last, the Farm Bill race of 2012 is over.
The past week has been a flurry of activity in Congress, as the looming fiscal cliff spurred Washington to action. Despite the public attention on the Farm Bill over the past year, the conclusion to the long drama came not in a fiery showdown but instead slipped – barely noticed – in to the end-of-year fiscal fight. The bill that passed the House on Tuesday night had tucked into it a nine-month Farm Bill extension that pushed the debate off until later this in 2013. Read more
As of this week, our nation’s food and farm policy in the form of the 2008 Farm Bill has officially expired, with no workable replacement. There are many who see this as a better course of events than the passage of one of the new, admittedly imperfect, bills passed by the Senate and proposed in the House. Others view congressional inaction as no big deal.
We beg to differ. Read more
Well, it’s official. Last Thursday, Speaker of the House John Boehner confirmed that the House will not vote on the 2012 Farm Bill during this brief Congressional working session and thus we’ll zip right past that pesky September 30 expiration date on the former bill. (I’ll explain what this means momentarily.) It’s possible that during Congress’ upcoming lame duck session in November, a one-year extension of the current bill will be voted on, and then we’ll get to do this all over again next year! Read more
With the debate over the 2012 Farm Bill currently underway in the Senate, most of the media’s attention has been focused on how direct payments—subsidies doled out regardless of actual farming—are being replaced with crop insurance, in a classic shell game that Big Ag’s powerful lobby is likely to pull off.
Meanwhile, the Senate may hurt the less powerful by cutting $4.5 billion from the largest piece of the farm bill pie: the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly called food stamps). Reducing this lifeline for 46 million struggling Americans (more than 1 in 7—nearly half of them children) has become a sideshow in the farm bill circus, even though SNAP spending grew to $78 billion in 2011, and is projected to go higher if the economy does not improve. Read more
Part history text, part socio-political commentary and part call to action, Food Fight: The Citizen’s Guide to the Next Food and Farm Bill offers something for everyone from the seasoned agriculture advocate to the newcomer on the food systems scene. The newly re-issued book by Dan Imhoff comes just as the federal debate over the 2012 Farm Bill is heating up. Read more
The Farm Bill is a 700-page hodgepodge of laws, regulations, guidelines and payouts covering all manner of U.S. agriculture, conservation and nutrition programs. And by the end of September, Congress is supposed to re-authorize this mess, or some variant of it, for another five-plus years.
A rational, coherent blueprint for a healthy national food supply might be too much to ask. But after years of studying the Farm Bill, I’d be thrilled to see a dent made in four of its most glaring conflicts of purpose. Read more
Two years ago this week, the USDA and U.S. Justice Department began a series of joint workshops on anti-trust issues in agriculture. More than 4,000 farmers participated, and 16,000 people submitted comments. (Civil Eats reported on these hearings here and here.) Yet at a press conference this week, marking the anniversary of the first workshop, a panel of farmers reported that little has changed. A handful of companies still control huge portions of livestock, dairy, and poultry markets, they said, and farmers continue to face abusive and unfair treatment. Read more
Rebecca Klein wasn’t expecting a lot when she signed up to attend last week’s Farm Bill Hackathon. This public health expert from the Center for a Livable Future at Johns Hopkins University had never heard of a hackathon–a gathering of computer programmers who lock themselves in a room to tackle epic projects with unrestricted creativity–until around two weeks before the event. While the idea of bringing together other sustainable food advocates with computer programmers interested in helping them build tools appealed to her, it also seemed a little ambitious.
The event, which took place last Saturday, was designed to encourage multiple teams of participants to take a project (infographics and online tools) from concept to execution in a single day. “It just seemed like too little time,” says Klein. “I’d never been to an event to tackle an issue where the attendees weren’t hand-selected in advance.” The results–an array of infographics, apps, and other tools made by over 120 people who attended either in person or via the web–surprised her. “The energy in the room was palpable and the power of bringing such diverse expertise into one room was inspiring. This one day planted a whole bunch of seeds for projects and ideas that would have never existed without coming together in that room (and via the web) for that concentrated time,” she says. Read more
Americans now face the holiday season with rising food prices and troubled economic waters roiled by Congressional gridlock. Nearly 90 percent of Americans disapprove of Congress, according to Gallup polling, and 2011 is on track to be Congress’s worst year ever for Gallup public approval ratings.
Given this backdrop, you’d think the Congressional agriculture committees would have understood that writing a secret farm bill tailor-made for their friendly agri-lobbyists and tacking it on to the super committee recommendations would only add to the toxic atmosphere permeating Washington. Since they didn’t, here are five lessons to be re-learned before the 2012 farm bill debate. Read more
Every five years, we have the chance to influence the way our food is produced, our land is conserved, and our health is protected. The legislation that addresses these issues is known as the Farm Bill, and in 2012, it’s up for renewal. “It isn’t really a bill just for farmers,” says food journalist Michael Pollan, in this video from Nourish Short Films. “It really should be called the food bill because it is the rules for the food system we all eat by.” Read more