A Food Fight For the Ages: My Resolution to Change the Farm Bill

It is that time of year again where many of us make a promise to ourselves that we are highly likely to break. In fact, only 8% of us will successfully achieve our New Years Resolution. This year, I am going to be part of the 8% and you are going to join me. You are not going to have to go to the gym, wake up at 5AM to run, quit smoking, and give up sweets (even though you should). But you are going to have to flex your citizen muscle.

I resolve to change the Farm Bill.

[Record scratch!]

Oh, you don’t think the Farm Bill concerns you. It’s not worth your time?

Fine. Have it your way. Without a citizen friendly Farm Bill, we will all be eating genetically modified (GM) corn that isn’t labeled… wait, that already happened. 85% of U.S. corn, 91% of soybeans and 88% of cotton (cottonseed oil) is genetically modified and up to 70% of packaged foods at the supermarket contain genetically modified ingredients – none of them labelled. And it is not just grains and vegetables. The next time you order salmon, it may have been gene-spliced with an eel in a lab to make it grow twice the size of salmon created by Mother Nature.

And this is only the start. Monsanto, Dow, Bayer, BASF, Syngenta and other large chemical companies are seeking approval of new genetically modified seeds more and more frequently, and the USDA is putting them on the fast-track for approval. If the chemical companies and USDA have their way, not even a court order will be able to stop them from planting food that has yet to be proven safe for people and the environment.

The Farm Bill needs to be changed in many ways to make it a Farm Bill for the People. To start us off, here are the top 5 things you and I resolve to fight to get in the new Farm Bill:

No Direct Payments: Direct payments guarantee farmers get paid, whether or not they produce their crop. Its bad policy and was already taken out of the proposed House and Senate versions of the 2012 Farm Bill, yet it remains in force in the Farm Bill extension. These payments are not going to the mom and pop farmers you are picturing in your head. 74% of this free money goes to the top 10% of producers. Or in other words, directly to large corporate farms that are putting mom and pop out of business. Let’s make sure $5+ billions in direct payments don’t make it back into the Farm Bill this fall. [Degree of Difficulty: Easy, just need to make sure Congress doesn’t back track]

Fair crop insurance: I had never heard of crop insurance before this years mega drought, but it makes sense. A farmer plants his crop and pays a premium to the insurance company that takes the risk of the crop being damaged or destroyed. But Congress is proposing “new and improved” crop insurance that would pay the premium for the farms AND subsidize the insurance companies for providing the coverage. That means that the only people taking a risk are the American people who will end up with a $9+ billion tax bill. This “improved” crop insurance is why large corporate players are willing to abandon direct payments because they are likely to receive more money through crop insurance. [Degree of Difficulty: Hard, large corporations are going to pressure Congress for this sweetheart deal since they have been cut off from direct payments]

Support for small to medium size farmers: Small to medium size farmers are the people we think of when we think of a farm. They have dozens to hundreds of acres, not tens of thousands. They are the ones growing vegetables and nutrient rich foods that everyone says we should be eating but no one is incentivized to grow. Currently, they get little to no direct payments and don’t have access to crop insurance. So let’s focus on them and create the right incentives needed to grow the good food we all deserve. Future posts will outline specific policies we need to support small and medium sized farmers. Have ideas? Leave a comment. [Degree of Difficulty: Medium, there will be a lot of lip service to small and medium size farmers, but we need to make sure the substance is there]

No “Farmer Assurance Provision”:  This provision prevents federal courts from halting the planting and sale of genetically modified crops while they are being assessed by the USDA for safety. That means you will buy corn flakes at Safeway that contain GMOs that may be harmful to you and the environment. But you have no idea because 1) no GMOs are labeled and 2) the USDA hasn’t done/finished its study on whether or not the GMO corn is harmful. [Degree of Difficulty: Medium, I think we will win this one, but it will be a fight and Monsanto and friends will try to slip it in last minute]

GMO Labeling: Products that are genetically modified are not labelled in this country, yet 90% of Americans want their food labelled for GMOs. Obama promised in 2007 to label GMOs and we need to make it happen. California Right to Know got us started with Prop 37 and now it is time to take this food fight to Congress. [Degree of Difficulty: Medium, while Prop 37 lost is California, it paved the way for a hard fought victory nationally]

The Farm Bill is very screwed up and there are many other issues we need to fight for, including funding for training new farmers, incentivizing the growth of nutrient dense foods (fruits and veggies), and incentivizing organic and non-chemical farming. And that doesn’t even cover SNAP. Make sure you follow this blog to hear more about what we need to do to change the Farm Bill and what we can do to make a Farm Bill for the People happen.

It is time to get to work. I don’t care if you are a slacktivists or a hard core political organizer giddy to take the fight to the Capital steps, we all have a stake in this game and a roll to play. Let’s make this a FOOD FIGHT FOR THE AGES!


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