The Farm Bill

Farm/Harm Bill

Top 3 points for AWFW:

  1. Milk subsidies remain (or dairy milk would have doubled in price).
  2. Emergency funds provided to livestock producers because of the drought.
  3. Direct commodity subsidies kept. These are direct payments regardless of any production. It's framed as "farmer" support but it provides massive support for agribusiness.


What Was Lost...

While there are many unknowns, the general consensus among progressive advocates is that the results will have highly detrimental impacts.

According to the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition:

"Dairy CowHaving quickly disposed of programs for new farmers, minority farmers, healthy food markets, rural job programs, renewable energy, specialty crop and organic research, and organic farming — and having protected every last red cent of direct commodity subsidies

— the last issue to be settled in the McConnell-Biden talks was dairy.  All sides wanted to avoid the political embarrassment of the imposition of permanent law from the New Deal era that would have required massive government purchases of milk to force consumer prices up to double their current levels."

Why care about the Farm Bill?

December 12, 2012

The current talk "around Capitol Hill" is that the 2012 Farm Bill may possibly but not likely pass before the newly elected Congress begins. If not, there's no guarantee that it will even come up for a vote in 2013.

Theoretically, with new Congressional Members, the negotiations could fare better, but logistically there are serious concerns. More from NSAC...

Buyer Beware:

We're watching the Steve King Amendment. It works like NAFTA between states. If passed, California and other states passing animal protection laws (such as requiring eggs from cage-free hens), would HAVE to accept products from other states do not enact the protections. 

Read more on the devastating effects of the "egg amendment" --> HSUS & The Hill

October 8, 2012

The 2008 Farm Bill Expired! 

The current Farm Bill (from 2008) expired as of midnight September 30, 2012.  SNAP (food stamps) and crop insurance programs (mostly subsidies supporting large agribusinesses)---are not immediately affected but key conservation programs can no longer enroll new applicants.


What It All Means:


Crop insurance and most commodity programs (provide subsidies for feed crops that keep meat and other animal products prices well below their actual costs and resulting in massive profits for large animal agribusiness corporations) are not immediately affected by the expiration, environment and "specialty" programs have been hit hard by the expiratation.


More from NSAC...


July 22, 2012

New open letter attempts to halt passage of the Farm Bill by House of Representatives.

"This letter was initiated by Kari Hamerschlag of Environmental Working Group and authors Anna Lappé and Dan Imhoff out of frustration that the House Agriculture Committee slashes $16 billion in nutrition assistance and $6.1 billion from conservation programs while spending $36 billion on new farm subsidies and failing to include meaningful reforms to the costly federal crop insurance program."


July 21, 2012

House amendment would nullify animal protection laws. Read the Huffington Post Blog by John Robbins (renowned author of Diet for a New America).

"Last week Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) successfully introduced an amendment to the farm bill that would not only jeopardize those laws, but also any laws passed by any other state that might seek to restrict factory farm cruelty. The current Farm Bill expires at the end of September, so Congress has to cobble together a new one in a hurry. King's amendment was introduced near midnight at the very end of a marathon session. It was debated for a grand total of 20 minutes, and then passed by the House Committee on Agriculture.

July 7, 2012

There is a open letter en route to Capitol Hill objecting  the House agriculture committee’s proposed farm bill. The letter, signed by leading nutrition and food activists, makes the argument that the proposed bill would “steer the next five years of national food and farm policy in the wrong direction.”

According to Dan Imhoff, author of CAFO: The Tragedy of Industiral Animal Factories:

"Rather than making real reforms to alleviate hunger, strengthen stewardship, and boost rural economies, the House farm bill would continue sending billions to agribusinesses and weaken regulations around pesticides and genetically modified crops. Americans deserve better."

July 12, 2012

The House Ag Committee burned the midnight oil until 1am this morning to finalize their draft of the Farm Bill.

See below why we're concerned and why it's still very important to call.

Here's why we still have time. The Ag Committee's finalized draft needs to pass the entire House, where amendments can drastically change the game. That's why it's best to call ALL House Representatives.

However, with an already overbooked docket and only 17 working days left, the House may not consider (much less pass) the current version, which means an extension may be requested so that the current Farm Bill doesn't expire on September 30th.

What happens if there's an extension?  It could be better or worse. The short answer is that the extension could be for 3-months or 1-year. They may try to finalize the Farm Bill during the "lame duck" season or start over when the new congress is voted in.  If rushed through, it won't be given the detailed attention it needs by politicians who will be held responsible. 

Here's what the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition says about possible extensions and the finalized House draft that just passed the Ag Committee (but still needs to pass the full House). 

Your call (details below) to both the House and Senate is important regardless of when the Farm Bill is finalized because they need to know there is wide support for reform.

Specifically, we favor redirecting subsidies AWAY from commodity crops (much of which is used for animal feed) and crop insurance (another form of subsidy that can benefit large agribusinesses)... and TOWARD fresh produce and other programs that promote national health, concern for animals, and protection the environment.

Note: we favor many reforms, but primarily focus on commodity crops because of the massive subsidies they provide to the meat industry, especial supporting factory farming systems.

July 11, 2012 

The House draft of the Farm Bill is almost finalized, then it will need to pass in the full House of Representatives. After/IF it passes, the House and Senate committees will go to "conference" to make final changes.

Unfortunately, according to the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, under the House version, federal crop insurance subsidies would drastically increase to an unprecedented average of $10 billion per year — with no subsidy caps, no targeting, no income limits, and not even minimal conservation requirements.

This is a major disappointment considering the Senate version cut direct commodity subsidies by $5 billion/year and capped crop insurance (which can be used/abused as a form of subsidy). 

“At a time when our nation faces record deficits, the draft bill is fiscally irresponsible, providing unlimited premium subsidies to the nation’s largest farms and wealthiest landowners.” said Ferd Hoefner, of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.

The draft bill would increase the commodity payment limit by 250% above the already generous Senate-passed levels, and unlike the Senate-passed bill, would leave wide-open the current loopholes that allow mega-farms and absentee landowners to collect farm payments.  “Subsidy loopholes that enable waste, fraud, and abuse in commodity programs are alive and well in this bill,” noted Hoefner. 


How to Call:

  • Call the Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121.
  • Ask for your Senator's or House Representative's office.
  • When connected, ask for the aid that covers the Farm Bill.
  • If unavailable, leave a your name, number, city and message.

Sample Message:
"I'm a constituent. I'm calling about the Farm Bill to ask (Senator or Representative) to reduce commodity direct payments and crop insurance (especially for large agribusiness) in favor of subsidies that support fresh fruits and vegetables."

Bonus: Here's the Agricultural Committee. If your state is represented, your call is even more important.


Farm Bill

Commodity Subsidy Reduction

The bipartisan Senate Farm Bill, approved 64 to 35, will eliminate $5 billion a year in direct payments to producers of corn, wheat, soybeans and other crops (mostly used as animal feed).

When feed prices are subsidized, they artificially decrease production costs and increase the consumption of meat, dairy and egg products.

We remain watchful as crop insurance can produce similar misleading effects. Fortunately, new limits were also placed on crop insurance.

The Senate bill limits commodity subsidies to those with an adjusted gross income (AGK) of less that $750,000 (half the current ceiling). Payouts are limited to $50,000 for individuals and $100,000 for couples.

Factory Farm Inspections 

An amendment that would have prohibited aerial inspections of CAFOs (factory farms) by the Environmental Protection Agency failed. It's a gross understatement to say that USDA inspections need much greater reach and much sharper teeth... but it's good news that they weren't further weakened in law.

Fresh Fruits and Vegetables

This Farm Bill pays more attention to "specialty crops," mainly fruits and vegetables. It expands block grants to states to support research and promotion of specialty crops, assists organic farmers and expands support for farmers' markets and programs that help get healthy foods to low-income areas. 

SNAP - Food Stamps

Excerpted from the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC):

"The Farm Bill that passed the Senate continues the strong structure of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). We commend the Senate for rejecting amendments that would have crippled the program and left poorer, hungrier, and unhealthier millions of people who rely on the program for basic food. [However,] the bill contains a $4.5 billion cut to SNAP that will harm large numbers of struggling families" read more...

Why Care About the Farm Bill?

The Farm Bill is revised every five years and has immense and far-reaching impact on crop subsidies, conservation policies, fresh food programs, and most significantly SNAP (more commonly known as food stamps).

With more than $500 billion at stake over five years, we strongly support reducing commodity subsidies and increasing support for fresh fruits and vegetables, especially in communities in need (see below for more details).

Our Focus

Due the enormity and complexity of the Farm Bill, we provide overview materials for informative purposes, while targeting our efforts on the benefits of redirecting subsidies away from animal feed commodity crops and towards fresh produce for people.

Farm Subsidies Graph

1st --> Reducing Commodity/Feed Subsidies 

Reducing the massive subsidies to large-scale feed crops significantly increases the cost of meat, dairy, eggs and other animal-based products. The government provides $20+ billion every year in direct farm subsidies. Feed grains (mostly corn) account for the largest share of farm subsidy support, more than double the next commodity crop. (2005 graph: corn in red, cotton in green)

2nd --> Increasing Subsidies for Fresh Produce

The next step is advocating that subsidies be redirected towards fresh produce (thus lower the prices). This benefits SNAP (the food stamps program), the general public, producers, and farm workers if applied fairly.

We support weighted subsidies that provide greater assistance to smaller-scale, eco-friendly producers while minimizing payments to large-scale, monoculture producers.

Farm Bill Facts 2007-2011/12

Fact: The government provides $20+ (out of $100) billion every year in direct farm subsidies.

Fact: Feed grains (mostly corn) account for the largest share of farm subsidy support, more than double the next commodity crop.

Fact: In the United States, 3/5 of farmers don't get any subsidy payments, while the richest 5% average $470,000 each.

Fact: The Natural Resources Conservation Service reports that nearly two billion tons of cropland soil is still lost and less than 10% of the USDA budget is linked to conservation practices.

Fact: Of the conservation practices that are funded, clean-up of factory farming pollution is included (so tax payers bear the cost instead of the agribusinesses that are causing the pollution).

Fact: Only 2% of children (2-19 years old) meet the five federal requirements for a healthy diet. Although certain calories are cheaper than others, these foods are usually lacking any nutritional benefit, and are contributing to the growing malnutrition epidemics in the U.S. and globally.  

What's the Breakdown?

The 2008 Farm Bill was divided into 15 titles, with 97-99% of the funding split between four categories:

  1. 67% Nutrition --> food stamps, school lunches, and related programs.
  2. 15% Commodities -->  subsidized animal feed giving unfair advantages to factory farms. These commodity crops are heavily used in processed foods which deflates their price to the disadvantage of fruits, vegetables and other fresh, whole foods. To further exacerbate the problem, fruits and vegetables are considered "specialty crops" and receive very little support.
  3. 9% Conservation --> includes using public taxes to clean-up after factory farms instead of making the agribusiness corporations pay for their pollution.
  4. 8% Crop Insurance --> another way to affect commodities and farming practices... notable differences in shallow loss and deep loss assistance.

Source: Community Food Security Coalition -- webinar

Additional Resources

White paper for 2007/8 Farm Bill by Farm Sanctuary and Brighter Green.

* For informational purposes. Inclusion does not imply endorsement.