Farm Bill. The mere mention of this lumbering piece of legislation can stop a conversation cold. We brace instinctively for the onslaught of remote concepts and acronyms that will follow. Crop subsidies, Supplemental Revenue Assistance Payments (SPAP), Adverse Market Payments (AMP), DPMPP, EQIP, CSP, CIG and SNAP. Who can fathom these things as they crawl across the regulatory landscape?
First, there’s the big picture. The Farm Bill under consideration in the Senate this week will try to nail down how much money farmers will get in crop subsidies, and is expected to whittle back significantly on how much those making ridiculous sums of money (like $750,000 or more a year AGI) can get in government aid. It will also put out the cash for food stamp programs, which helps poor people, but also assures a bigger market for domestic producers. That money too is expected to be cut as lawmakers try to trim overall spending and repair the deficit.
Aside from all that, there’s a tractor load of special amendments riding in on this already weighty bill — 234 at last count — that will affect pretty much everyone who eats. Some are pro-consumer, others push the agenda of Big Ag; some you may never hear about if lawmakers give them the heave-ho.
Here are a couple topics in the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2013 that you may care about, and may even want to voice your support:
- LABELING: Amendment 1025 put forth by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) would not require labeling of genetically modified foods or GMOs, but would issue a statement of support on behalf of labeling, which is the norm in dozens of countries in the developed world. A companion amendment, No. 1026, could have even bigger impact in the U.S., where the vast majority of domestic corn, soybeans and sugar beets are genetically modified. It would require that the USDA study the prospect of a federal labeling bill and how it might work better than having several separate state laws, which appears likely now that Vermont and Connecticut have passed labeling laws and several other states are considering them. In case you’re new to the movement, GMO foods are typically engineered to resist certain herbicides (usually RoundUp), which critics say makes them more likely to have toxic residues. Public health groups have worried that GMOs could hurt human health, even though the FDA swears that genetically modified foods are substantially the same as conventional crops. These issues prompted a U.S. movement for GMO labeling laws.
- MONSANTO SLAP DOWN: Amendment 978 would repeal the law known as the “Monsanto Protection Act,” which protects the seed giant from legal challenges. The MPA slid through as part of a big budget bill earlier this year. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) filed the repeal proposal, following weeks of public outcry over the special treatment for Monsanto, the world’s biggest seed and pesticide company.
- ORGANICS: Amendment 1093 would provide more help to organic farmers, by streamlining a government aid program known as EQIP. Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) (D-VT), Mo Cowan (D-MA) and Susan Collins (R-ME) are the sponsors.
- FOOD DESERTS: This measure, contained within the main bill, establishes a “Healthy Food Financing Initiative” for loans to help improve access to healthy, fresh foods in food deserts, generally urban areas served by fast food but cut off from supermarkets. The goal is to improve the health of families and preserve jobs.
- FRUIT AND VEGETABLE PRODUCERS: The bill proposes expanded crop coverage for “underserved” crops and regions, which means more money, potentially, for produce farmers who operate in smaller sectors of this industry.
Here, courtesy of the Organic Consumer’s Association, is a sampling of the measures, or riders, contained in this law of which you may want to take note.:
• … label genetically engineered food.” (Support Boxer Amendments 1025 and 1026)
• … repeal the Monsanto Protection Act.” (Support Merkley Amendment 978)
• … ban genetically engineered salmon.” (Support Begich Amendment 934)
• … save the honeybees.” (Support Boxer Amendment 1027)
• … give organic farmers equal access to funds for environmental improvement.” (Support Leahy Amendment 1093)
• … add climate change mitigation to conservation programs.” (Support Whitehouse Amendment 1058)
• … address factory farms’ drug abuse problem, responsible for antibiotic-resistant superbugs that infect hundreds of thousands and kill tens of thousands of Americans each year.” (Support Gillibrand Amendment 940)
• … reign in the factory farm and meatpacking cartels that subject contract farmers to abusive practices that reduce food quality, animal welfare and worker safety.” (Support Grassley Amendment 969, Rockefeller Amendment 993, Tester Amendment 971, and Enzi Amendments 981 and 982)
• … legalize industrial hemp.” (Support Wyden Amendment 952)
• … increase funding for eat-local and farm-to-consumer programs.” (Support Brown Amendment 1088)
• … stop attempts to take food assistance from hungry families.” (Oppose Sessions Amendments 946 and 947, Roberts Amendments 949 and 950, Thune Amendment 991, Coburn Amendments 100, 1002, 1005, and 1009, and Vitter Amendment 1056)
• … place long-overdue limits of $50,000 on crop insurance premium subsidies for America’s wealthiest large-scale farmers.” (Support Shaheen Amendment 926)
• … make sure farmers who get federal money for irrigation aren’t wasting water.” (Support Udall Amendment 1049)