Friday, May 23, 2008

Farm Bill survives veto

It's very easy to rail against farm bills. And there are a lot of terse words I'd have for it, too, if it walked into my living room. But the reality it, it's complicated. The 2007 farm bill that just overrid (is that a word? overrided?) W's veto is no exception. It garnered the support of many progressive social groups that desperately needed funding. (OK, true, pretty much all progressive social groups desperately need funding.)

This year many of the beneficiaries of the farm bill (including nutrition programs, farm worker groups, anti-poverty activists, organic growers) needed help more than ever. Extremely high food prices, caused by shortage of basic commodities like wheat and corn (thanks ethanol), have stressed virtually every sector of our economy, and our humanity.

Unfortunately, some of the relief this year is coming in the form of a bill that will also continue to unfairly support huge agribusiness and provide subsidies of comical proportions to megafarms. But it's hard to say "no" when you're truly in need.

The 2006 US Census found that 11.4% of US households are food-insecure while an astonishing 17% of households with children are food insecure. (Food security is defined by the USDA as access at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members). According to a 2007 USDA report, about one-third of food insecure households (4.0 percent of all U.S. households) had very low food security—meaning that the food intake of one or more adults was reduced and their eating patterns were disrupted at times during the year because the household lacked money and other resources for food. fn1

Arrives the knight on the white horse: a little more than 66% of the 2007 farm bill will fund domestic nutrition programs and food stamps.

Here is an interesting fact sheet prepared by the House Committee on Agriculture on the nutrition title of the farm bill. The center on Budget on Budget and Policy Priorities has also analyzed the nutrition section of the conferenced bill, and given it a stamp of approval.

It's just hard to swallow the fact that these desperately needed benefits are coming along with commodity subsidies that will continue to make it difficult for people to make good nutritional choices by maintaining the US's status quo love-affair with high fructose corn syrup.

I admit that I'm simplifying the equation a bit. But I wish law makers had the backbone to demand things that their constituents truly need (fresh food, air, soil) rather than be content with cutting the holes out of a rotten apple.

fn1:, Household Food Security in the United States, 2006, by Mark Nord, Margaret Andrews, and Steven Carlson.

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