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Published on February 14th, 2008 | by Beth Bader

Farm Bill Redux: A Second Change at Real Reform

I thought it was over. Like a modern day Don Quixote, I tilted away at the windmill, blogging and firing emails off to my representatives in Washington, rallying for Farm Bill reform. I was not alone. Over 350 pro-reform farm bill editorials hit the mainstream press. The calls for subsidy reform fell on deaf ears at Congress, however, as the 2007 versions of the Farm Bill failed to adequately address the issue.

As the great hope for a better Farm Bill that included subsidy reform amendment Dorgan-Grassley died, the final proposed bill was just left with some token nods to food program assistance and limited support for specialty farmers. Real reform slipped away into the night along with 2007.

With the new year comes a glimmer of hope.
And, that hope comes from a most unlikely source. It seems that the Bush administration, in a fervor to slash all non-Iraq spending, has promised a veto if Congress does not come up with a farm bill that doesn’t feature additional spending. As a result, the subsidy reforms are being revisited, particularly the income cap for eligibility.

The revised plan would call for a lower cap on income for subsidies, but the amount of that cap is a point that has yet to be agreed upon. The house places the cap at a $1 million “hard” cap and a $500,000 “soft” cap that would not apply to people with at least two-thirds of their income from farming. The Senate proposed a $750,000 “soft” cap.

The White House has called for a much lower $200,000 “hard” cap, saying that this cap would end subsidies to roughly 40,000 people.

Opponents of the approach advise that none of these measures will be effective. There are loopholes large enough to drive a combine through, which would allow the larger producers to evade the subsidy caps. As a result, reform activist group, The Center for Rural Affairs, is calling for voters to again urge Congress to consider better approaches to real subsidy reform, such as those offered by Dorgan-Grassley.

Residents who live in Iowa, Idaho, Kansas, Minnesota, Montana, and North Dakota are urged to contact their representative now to lobby for reforms. All of us, however, are urged to write the House or Senate Agriculture Committee Chair to encourage real reform. You can learn more about the issue and actions you can take at the CFRA site.

There are other issues at stake besides subsidies.
An increase in funding in the farm bill nutrition title for food stamps and an emergency food assistance program that helps fund food banks is a point of contention as well. The Senate bill can only find funding for the measures for five years of the new bill’s budget. The House funded the measures through the full 10-year budget window by ending a tax benefit for foreign companies, a measure that may cause House Republicans to vote against the farm bill on the House floor. These token improvements to much needed nutrition programs for low-income families were one of the few positives in the proposed bill.

The specialty crop marketing order provision threatens wildlife habitat, water quality and family farms
This new amendment to the farm bill was allegedly intended to protect our nation’s food supply from pathogens such as E. coli 0157. However, it places the responsibility on fruit and vegetable growers and will disadvantage small farms.

The primary source of such E. coli contaminations has been shown to be cattle waste from feedlots and the run off into waterways with most of the resulting contamination found in bagged mixed greens from large-scale farms. However, this Farm Bill provision would force farmers to eradicate wildlife habitat on their farm in the name of food safety. No mandates for the actual source of contamination are contained in the bill.

As a result, organic food growers, and other farmers are being unfairly targeted to solve a larger public health problem that results from an unwieldy industrial food production system.

You can contact your representatives about this issue at this link provided by The Center for Food Safety.

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About the Author

Beth Bader is co-author of the book, The Cleaner Plate Club. She is a passionate “Local Food” advocate and an author for the Eat Local Challenge. She loves creating healthy, family-friendly, seasonal foods, family dinners, cooking for friends, and cooking with her child. You can her at The Expatriate’s Kitchen.

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