Calls Grow for a Farm Bill that Serves ‘All of Us, Not Just Corporations’ | Civil Eats

Calls Grow for a Farm Bill that Serves ‘All of Us, Not Just Corporations’

In this week’s Field Report, more on the farm bill, a new report on SNAP improvements, and broken (egg) promises.

A farmer of color tends crops on his diversified farm in hopes of getting more support from the farm bill in 2023

On Tuesday, a broad range of farm, environmental, and other organizations came together to launch a coalition to change federal policies they say support an unfair, unhealthy, and environmentally destructive food system.

Most of those policies take shape every five years in the farm bill, and hearings and negotiations around the 2023 version of the mega-legislation are just getting started. About 150 people attended the Food Not Feed Summit in Washington, D.C, and many headed to Capitol Hill afterward to meet with lawmakers. Another 700 people were registered to view the event online.

“We are agriculture, animal welfare, academia, environment, faith, food, health and nutrition, social justice, and workers—and we’re all in this room together,” said Angela Huffman, co-founder of Farm Action, a host of the event. “It’s my hope that we’ll see the president of the United States sign his name on a farm bill that serves all of us, not just corporations.”

Huffman and other speakers pointed to the problematic nature of farm bill funds that flow almost entirely to growers of corn, soybeans, and other commodities through commodity and crop insurance programs. Currently, about 40 percent of U.S. corn and more than 70 percent of soybeans are turned into feed for animals raised in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). Because a handful of global corporations control the country’s meat industry, members of the coalition argue that the funding is effectively padding corporate profits while driving small farms out of business and supporting animal suffering and pollution caused by CAFOs.

By comparison, a very small slice of the overall farm bill funding pie goes to fruit and vegetable growers and small, diversified farms. Vegetable and pastured livestock farmers from several states including Kansas, North Carolina, and Ohio told the crowd that they struggle to access markets and fair prices and to get grants and other technical assistance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In an impassioned speech, Senator Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) connected those rural struggles to the challenges low-income consumers in urban areas—like the city of Newark, where he served as Mayor—face accessing healthy food. “Food deserts in New Jersey and farmers and ranchers in the Midwest, we are part of the same broken system that’s hurting all of our families,” he said.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) speaks at the Food Not Feed Summit (Photo credit: Farm Action)

Sen. Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) speaks at the Food Not Feed Summit (Photo credit: Farm Action)

To that end, one of his top priorities for the farm bill will be “massively scaling up” the Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program (GusNIP), which increases fruit and vegetable benefits for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) users, usually at farmers’ markets (and through produce prescriptions), sending additional dollars back to small farms.

Booker, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, the committee that writes the farm bill, said his other priorities included more crop insurance options for fruit and vegetable farmers. He also wants to reform conservation programs, checkoff programs, and the Packers & Stockyards Act to shift dollars and power away from CAFOs and industrial meatpackers and toward smaller, diversified farms. Booker included many of those reforms in an initial package of four bills he introduced in the Senate last week.

However, while the bills suggest that action on the issues is at hand, they also point to the political elephant in the room: Booker has introduced all of the bills before, and none have gone anywhere. Similarly, many of the food system shifts the coalition at the Food Not Feed Summit are advocating for have been talked about through many farm bill cycles without making a real dent in the bill’s foundational funding structure.

Booker addressed that political stagnation head on, noting that many people tell him he’s unrealistic. “We have to build our coalition and fight, because I’m telling you right now, the interests that want to preserve the status quo are pouring—no exaggeration—billions of dollars into Washington,” he said.

Later, Bryn Bird, a young farmer from Bird’s Haven Farms in Ohio, described the challenge differently. Bird was getting ready to meet with lawmakers to talk about the challenges of selling fresh vegetables directly to customers through CSAs, farmers’ markets, and institutions when she noted, “Over two-thirds of the House Agriculture Committee [members] have not been through a farm bill [process], so there is a massive amount of education [ahead],” she said. “Who’s going to be the one educating them? The Farm Bureau, or us?”

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Read More:
Report: Conservation Dollars Funding CAFOs Instead of Soil Health
Just a Few Companies Control the Meat Industry: Can a New Approach to Monopolies Level the Playing Field?
Can Produce Prescription Programs Turn the Tide on Diet-Related Disease?
Native Farmers Push for More Equitable Training and Support in the Farm Bill

Improving SNAP. Last week, the Bipartisan Policy Center released a report with recommendations for lawmakers on how to improve food and nutrition security via the farm bill. Among the recommendations are several intended to ensure SNAP benefits are adequate to properly feed recipients improvements to the technology used to access them. The task force also recommended modernizing other food-distribution programs and increasing funding for programs that get more fruits and vegetables into school meals.

The report also recommends expanding fruit and vegetable voucher programs and nutrition education programs in SNAP, and reporting data every two years on the quality of SNAP participants’ diets. “We hope that these recommendations will jumpstart a discussion about the need to further emphasize and improve nutrition in our federal food programs,” former Agriculture secretary Ann Veneman, who was a member of the task force, said during a webinar detailing the report.

Veneman and the other members stopped short of calling for restrictions on highly processed foods in SNAP, a controversial idea that has been proposed by some groups in the past. Jennifer Tiller, a staffer for the House Ag Committee’s Republican majority, said during the webinar that groups have already been floating proposals around restrictions but that House Ag Chairman GT Thompson (R-Pennsylvania) “has been very public that he will not restrict” choices within SNAP. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan) also said last year she was opposed to limiting SNAP purchases based on healthfulness due to concerns around equity and choice.

Despite the fact that a highly politicized debate over SNAP work requirements is already underway in the House as part of the debt-limit battle, the task force members and Capitol Hill staffers who spoke during the webinar repeatedly emphasized the bipartisan nature of the farm bill, including support for nutrition programs.

Read More:
“It’s Not Enough.” SNAP Recipients Struggle With High Food Prices
Op-Ed: The Increase in SNAP is Welcome. Now Let’s Reform the Entire Benefit System

Broken (egg) promises. Over the past decade, fast food chains, grocery stores, and other big food companies have one after another bowed to public pressure and vowed to source cage-free eggs by various dates. But according to The Humane League’s 2023 Cage-Free “Eggsposé” released yesterday, many food companies who committed to buying eggs from cage-free systems have failed to follow through on their promises. Many, including Gourmet Garage and Chopt, committed to cage-free timelines and then later quietly removed those policies from their websites without reporting progress.

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The animal welfare organization also called out Wendy’s and Einstein Bros Bagels for advertising cage-free eggs and then not being transparent about which locations or menu items are actually using them. For example, the report claims, Wendy’s committed to using cage-free eggs at a small number of restaurants that were serving breakfast when it made its commitment, but then expanded breakfast service to locations nationwide without carrying the commitment along. “This report exposes the disturbing reality of the food service industry and calls into question the honesty and integrity of the companies involved,” Kelly Myers, the group’s director of corporate engagement, said in a press release.

Read More:
What You Need to Know About the Corporate Shift to Cage-Free Eggs
Another “Cage-Free” Measure is on the California Ballot

Lisa Held is Civil Eats’ senior staff reporter and contributing editor. Since 2015, she has reported on agriculture and the food system with an eye toward sustainability, equality, and health, and her stories have appeared in publications including The Guardian, The Washington Post, and Mother Jones. In the past, she covered health and wellness and was an editor at Well+Good. She is based in Baltimore and has a master's degree from Columbia University's School of Journalism. Read more >

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  1. Matt L. Barron
    I've been involved with every Farm Bill since 1981 and progress in reforming this legislation is evolutionary not revolutionary. In a divided Congress, it is hard to see how checkoff reform, MCOOL, market concentration in the livestock sector, supply management for dairy and other stuff will stand a chance in 2023. The conference committee for this bill later this year could be quite a horror show.
  2. Offer a garden tractor subsidy program for home gardeners, Thanks.

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