America’s food system is broken from decades of bad policy choices. So it was no big surprise to hear about that star-studded cast of food celebrities—Mario Batali, Rick Bayless, Alice Waters—who last month joined the fight to fix this failed system. The culinary all-stars focused on one all-important thing—the farm bill.
Yes, the farm bill is back (it needs renewing every five years), and it’s as crucial, complicated and expensive as ever. “It really should be called the food bill,” says Michael Pollan, “because it is the rules for the food system we all eat by.”
The foodies suggested a fundamental rejiggering of existing crop- and farm-subsidy dollars that emphasizes feeding the hungry, protecting the environment, and promoting the consumption of healthy, local and organic foods. Currently, as Pollan writes, the bill mostly subsidizes agribusiness and the corporate farming of foods with “added sugars (derived from corn) and added fats (derived mainly from soy), as well as dirt-cheap meat and milk (derived from both).”
Well, the celebs got lots of headlines—but little action.
Last week, a $1 trillion farm bill made its way out of the Senate, but it doesn’t do much to address our nation’s food challenges as outlined by Pollan and company. Though Senate Bill 3240 does extend some fruit and vegetable programs that California won in 2008, the bill does little to make healthy and nutritious foods more affordable. Plus, it doesn’t go after the inequity issue: Between 1995 and 2010, almost 76 percent of farm subsidies went to 10 percent of the nation’s most profitable farmers.
Frighteningly, the bill the Senate passed is better than what Congress has in mind. The ultra-conservative majority in the House is predicted to take an extreme position on the farm bill and, especially, its role in providing a food safety net, as the bulk of S.B. 3240 reauthorizes the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the country’s food-stamp program.
S.B. 3240 contains sweeping multibillion cuts to SNAP—$4.5 billion over a 10 year period. But House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan has proposed a massively larger cut—$170 billion—over that same period.
Is he kidding?
Consider the harm that would do to poor American families, especially the women and children (the main beneficiaries of food stamps), especially in this economy. Drastic cuts to SNAP would force millions of Americans, who now don’t, to literally go to bed hungry and wake up wanting every morning.
More cuts to SNAP must be resisted outright.
But getting the farm bill passed is urgent, because if no bill is signed by September 30, when the current one expires, the nation reverts to the base “farm bill” law signed in 1949. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas has said would be “like going back to the Stone Ages.”
Please join those mounting a full-court press on the House to: 1. pass a decent farm bill, and 2. get it to President Barack Obama’s desk before September’s end.