So What's This Farm Bill?
While the nation's attention turns to the Senate all nighter over troops in Iraq, there's another huge omnibus bill up for discussion this week that's worth a collective looksee: the 2007 Farm Bill. This piece of 5-7 year legislation, worth about $274 billion dollars in 2002 (when it was last passed) is about our food system. It's about what we eat, what grows on our land, how much food costs, and as some critics contend, how fat we've become. The bill is up for markup discussion in the House Agriculture Committee, chaired by Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), through tomorrow.
In response to the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Agriculture Secretary Henry A. Wallace created the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933, which was originally created to help ailing farmers and strengthen rural communities. Over the years, in addition to farm subsidies, it's come to include food stamp, school lunch and low-income nutrition programs as well as land conservation assistance. Since the 1970s, the focus of funding has swayed in the direction of commodity crops, namely corn, wheat, soybeans, cotton and sugar.
According to data compiled by Washington public interest and advocacy organization Environmental Working Group, 66 percent of crop subsidy benefits went to just 10 percent of all farmers in the years 2003-2005. And those farmers getting the biggest piece of the pie -- the USDA's top 20 beneficiaries --- all grow the aforementioned commodities.
So if you grow fruits and vegetables or raise livestock, you get zilch.
So you might ask, so what? What's the big deal and why do I care which farmers get the big bucks and which don't? I'm not a farmer.
The situation is, to say the least, complicated and highly politicized. But there is more evidence (and a resulting groundswell) connecting Farm Bill policies to the health of our nation. There are many who contend that because of the legacy of disproportionate funding to commodity crops that we have become fat. As in obese.
Tomorrow, I'll share a Q&A with Dan Imhoff, author of "Food Fight: The Citizen's Guide to a Food and Farm Bill." (See how he calls it a Food and Farm Bill?)
Stay tuned, and in the meantime, chime in.
By Kim ODonnel |
July 18, 2007; 12:33 PM ET
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