The new version of the Farm Bill passed by Congress on February 4, 2014, and signed by President Obama three days later leaves several critical programs around nutrition and programs to support family farmers underfunded. The legislation is problematic on many levels, starting with the three below.
First, it cuts funding for several critical programs, including:
- $8 million in cuts to food stamps – which means an average of $90 in cuts per month for a typical family on food stamps, on top of the $29-a-month cuts that already went through in November.
- Additional cuts to programs to support new and beginning farmers – such as USDA outreach and education programs, whose mandatory minimum funding level was cut by $10 million (half of previous levels). These programs have been key for minority farmers, veterans , and other young and beginning farmers who will now find themselves with significantly less support.
Second, at the same time that these cuts go through, the Farm Bill continues to support corporate agribusiness interests. An article in the Nation describes how even Koch Industries stands to benefit from $881 million in Farm Bill subsidies for biomass energy. In the words of Ben Burkett, President of the National Family Farm Coalition (a Grassroots International partner), “We have an export-driven Farm Bill and are told that we are producing for the world, which benefits only multi-national corporations.” Our small-scale farming partners throughout the Global South are clear that US agricultural production flooding their local markets only lines the pockets of major agribusiness interests (such as Cargill and Monsanto), while devastating local farmers’ livelihoods and distorting prices for consumers. Third, this Farm Bill rolls back important environmental protections that had previously been in place through the Clean Water Act. Now, pesticide runoff from the forestry industry can no longer be regulated through the Clean Water Act, putting many waterways and the communities who depend on them at risk of major harm. Furthermore, it does nothing to address the original purpose of the first Farm Bill, passed in 1933, which was established to ensure fair prices for farmers so that they could continue producing food for their communities. Burkett explains: “There are cuts to conservation, and no programs ensuring that farmers receive fair prices covering their costs of production (a living wage); instead we see forced reliance on a privatized insurance industry to provide a ‘safety net…this process was done mostly behind closed doors with little opportunity for farmer input… “Many organizations, such as the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, National Family Farm Coalition, Rural Coalition, Missouri Rural Crisis Center and other allies, have worked for over 25 years to keep the voice of family farmers heard across the country. Moving forward, food sovereignty – the right of everyone to receive a fair and living wage, equal access to fresh, high-quality food, and equal opportunities – is what we really need in the Farm Bill.”
Fortunately, thanks to the hard work of the groups that Burkett mentions (and others), two major protections that had been on the chopping block in the House of Representatives’ previous Farm Bill proposal were preserved: Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) and USDA’s ability to address anti-trust violations and contract fairness issues through the Grain Inspection and Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA). While we are grateful for the preservation of those elements, the sum total of the Farm Bill stops far short of what would be necessary to ensure a vision for a Farm Bill based on food sovereignty both in the US and around the world.