Monday, July 16, 2012

The House Farm Bill is a Not So Funny Joke

If you thought the Senate’s 2012 Farm Bill had its shortcomings, wait till you see the House Agriculture Committee’s version passed this week. Most people predicted it would take aim at the SNAP program (food stamps), continue subsidizing commodity mega-farms, and make a deep reduction in conservation supports. It does all of this and a whole lot more.

  •  $16.5 billion cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program;
  •   no limits on how much a subsidy recipient can get in a single year;
  •   no basic conservation requirements in return for crop insurance subsidies;
  • $6 billion cuts to conservation programs.

The House draft is known as the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2012. But there is little reform to be found within its commodity programs that will largely shape farming practices, land stewardship, and public health and well-being over the next five to ten years.

The draft bill’s failure to reform income eligibility rules means the biggest operations will continue to receive the lion’s share of all subsidies, which they can use to expand and squeeze out smaller and medium sized farms. Without basic conservation requirements in place, operators have the economic incentive to plow up even the most marginal grounds because the government “safety net” will ensure they turn a profit. The likely and unwelcome result will be the loss of critical habitat and soil protection, and a reversal of conservation gains made over the past three decades.

Instead, this bill’s reforms are designed to roll back regulations and policies that protect the public, small farmers, and rural residents from potential harms of industrial agribusiness. If passed as written, a series of riders and provisions in the House Farm Bill would:

• gut rules that protect water quality and wildlife from agricultural pesticides;
• exempt GMO crops from proper environmental reviews and federal oversight;
• block states from establishing their own standards around food production and food safety;
• eliminate fair competition and contract reforms for livestock producers passed in the 2008 Farm Bill.

The only silver lining is that the House leadership has yet to set a time frame for this disastrous draft bill to be debated by its full membership. Amendments can and are being written to bring the bill back in line with the needs of the country. Now is the time to reach out to your representatives and urge them to defy this agribusiness biased contract on America.

It is anyone’s guess as to how this Farm Bill cycle will move ahead. Will a one-year extension of the 2008 Farm Bill be passed until a bill can be agreed upon later? Will the Senate and House Agriculture committees go straight to the conference process to avoid a messy debate and vote on the floor of the House? Will automatic cuts to the USDA budget be assessed in 2012 through the sequestration process agreed to earlier this year (which prohibits decreases in SNAP and Conservation Reserve Program funding)? These are just a few potential scenarios.

As concerned citizens the best thing we can do is to stay in touch with groups that are working for change on this issue, be prepared to make calls and in person meetings with your representatives, and bring your vote to the table.