I researched the hell out of it a lot before dropping out of my Technical Writing class. Thankfully, my two Senators have had their heads on straight. I can't say the same for everyone else's.
First, let me tell you why everything you eat depends on this bill. Read this part, even if your eyes glaze over and you think you'll pass out from boredom. IT'S IMPORTANT. If you still want to skip this and cut to the chase, scroll down to the blue writing.
The Farm Bill was originally designed to help farmers. Period. They could not get a high enough price to actually keep operating and were closing. This meant Americans were not going to have American farm grown food anymore. I suppose the Libertarian idea would be to just step back and let it happen. It's possible that people would have just started moving back to farms again, except that most farm land had been bought up by developers and a lot of people lived in cities because of industrial jobs. Bottom line, the government thought it would be better to supplement farms so that they could continue giving affordable food to the population and stay in business. This is still supposed to be the idea today as far as prices go. In theory, it costs more for farmers to grow and harvest food than they get back in selling it, let alone to also pay their own bills. Many family farmers have second jobs, and you can see why they're not eager to get rid of low paid undocumented workers.
Stay with me and keep reading.
Here's where SCHOOL LUNCH PROGRAMS also came in. If a farm produces a lot of milk or a lot of eggs, and sells all those, that increases supply, which drops the price. The government is against that because they want to keep prices as a level where everyone makes a profit. So, the government, our taxes, buys up surpluses instead. The original Farm Bill stipulated that these surpluses would be used in school lunch programs. Makes sense. Except that SCARCELY A SINGLE FRUIT OR VEGETABLE IS OR HAS EVER BEEN SUBSIDIZED. Corn and potatoes have been, but those are considered starches, and less than 5% of all corn grown in America is actually intended for direct human consumption. That's another story.
So, school lunches consist of a lot of cheap meat, wheat, eggs, and dairy products. I believe meat and cheese CAN be very healthy for you. However, vegetables are the most important food on earth. I know some people who have to watch their fruit intake because of sugars. I know lots of vegans and vegetarians who eschew animal products. I know paleo/primal eaters who cut out grains and eat lots of meat. VEGETABLES are the staple of all these diets. And vegetables are largely lacking in school lunches and American diets. The USDA itself recommends several cups a day of vegetables. Not a single one is subsidized by the Farm Bill. I mean, this chart says 0.37% for fruits and vegetables. I haven't been able to track down which ones those are and why.
There's one more thing you should be a little upset about. Sometimes the government DOES NOT want to buy surpluses that farmers grow. But, they also don't want them to sell it either, and drop market prices. SO, they use our tax dollars to pay farmers to NOT GROW ANYTHING on some of their land. If a farmer grows something else on that land, like a vegetable, THEY LOSE THEIR SUBSIDY.
Also, if you aren't a farmer, but you buy certified farm land that is part of this program, you can personally receive tax dollars from our government to bribe you to not become a farmer and grow food on that land.
Finally, because we subsidize cotton, and then sell that cotton in the international market, we undercut poor farmers in other countries by driving the price down, and since they don't have big governments with money to subsidize them, they can't compete. The World Trade Organization declared this illegal almost a decade ago, and Brazil sued. Every US President since then has given lip service to fixing this, but not even Barack Obama has taken the necessary steps to fix it. It his defense, there's a moratorium on legal action while the Farm Bill is up for debate. However, the WTO has paved the way for Brazil and other nations to retaliate against us. In the meantime we are SUBSIDIZING BRAZILIAN COTTON to satiate them.
We did the same thing with corn when we took restrictions off trade in the Americas. We made it cheaper for Mexicans to buy our corn than to GROW IT THEMSELVES. And since we use most of our corn for oil and fuel, we drove up the price of corn for food all over the world, because corn FOR FOOD went down in supply and up in demand. You want to know why thousands and thousands of illegal immigrants still try to come here to work and send home money to their families? We are the reason.
The 2008 Farm Bill made some important improvements, including helping schools buy more fruits and vegetables and connecting them to local farms. However, we still have a long, LONG way to go.
Now we have the Farm Bill up for revisions and votes again. It was finalized today.
One of the biggest ones was mandatory labeling on food that contains any genetically modified ingredient. It was VOTED DOWN, 73-26. I can see why politicians and corporations would be against this - Europe has largely banned all GM foods for human consumption. Funny side story - we've threatened those countries for not accepting our crops, and meats from animals fed with GM crops. We're awesome. Anyway, about 80% of everything sold in your grocery store contains a GM ingredient. High Fructose Corn Syrup comes from GM corn. Soy and Canola are also largely GM in this country unless you buy oil from a company that certifies that it is not GM. Any product on your store shelf that contains soy also has GMOs in it unless you buy certified organic. As a rule, organic cannot be genetically modified. Most people don't know this. If GM products had to be labeled, there would probably be a huge drop in people purchasing pre-packaged foods. Probably the whole economy would collapse. Or something.
Both of my senators voted for labeling, which rocks, but also because genetically modified salmon are being produced and that would be a direct threat to a major part of our environment and our economy.
See here how yours voted.
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY, offered an amendment to try and offset 4.5 BILLION in cuts to food stamp programs by cutting subsidies to insurance companies. Last year the government used 1.3 billion of our tax dollars to pay insurance companies to help subsidize their costs for insuring farms. It was voted down 66-33.
This is related to something I would normally consider a good thing. The Senate voted to end direct subsidy payments to farmers. If you read my previous explanation and history of the Farm Bill, you know this program is fraught with problems and abuses. However, the alternative is that we will be giving tax dollars to INSURANCE COMPANIES who insure the farmers in case of losses. Instead of giving a farmer money to help if one of her crops fails, we'll be giving it to the insurance company, who will keep it as a profit and then give it to the farmer IF they are determined to need it. I do assume this means more organic farms and farmers who grow fruits and vegetables will be receiving assistance and farmers will no longer be paid to not grow things. I ASSUME.
SUGAR. For the last 80 years, beet and cane sugar has had price controls and import limits. Many corporations that use sugar were demanding a change this year because it keeps prices up and sends business over seas. It was voted down. What they don't mention is that one reason corn syrup is so popular is that it is cheaper than sugar. Corn is genetically modified. Beat and cane sugar are not. Monsanto has been working on a GM beat for sugar. How much do you want to bet they'll change this policy once Monsanto is in the market?
A few GOOD THINGS:
Organic Certification cost-sharing is still intact. It costs a lot of money to become certified organic, which is why some small scale farms tell you they are pesticide/gm/chemical free but don't have the full Certified Organic label. There is a program currently that helps with certification costs. To save money, an amendment was introduced to end this program. It was voted down. Considering how many billions of dollars are wasted through the Farm Bill, I find it amusing that they thought this would be the big money saver.
Changes in organic farm insurance.
"Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR)'s amendment to improve crop insurance for organic farmers has passed. Currently, when organic farmers face losses and file an insurance claim, they are not paid based on the price of the organic crop but instead based on the price for the non-organic equivalent crop, which is often considerably lower. Merkley's amendment ensures that organic farmers will be compensated for losses at the relevant organic prices.
Organic farmers also currently pay a higher premium for crop insurance than non-organic farms, and the additional cost combined with lower payouts is a main factor organic producers cite for not purchasing crop insurance. Senator Merkley's amendment requires USDA to set appropriate payment levels for organic farmers." (source)
THINGS THAT ARE NOT BEING VOTED ON AT ALL
-Legalizing the interstate sale of raw milk
-Improving egg-laying hen conditions by increasing space and setting up environments to allow more natural behaviors, such as natural nesting.
-Legalizing the growth of commercial hemp (I assume this one is a major threat to oil, cotton, and wood industries. After all, if you read the first half of this, you'll know we are so eager to be jerks in the international cotton market, we are paying Brazil cotton farmers so Brazil doesn't punish us by lifting all of our patent protection, including on cars and movies)
-Senator Jon Tester, the US Senate's ONLY FARMER, introduced an amendment support by farmers and scientists WORLDWIDE to help preserve seed diversity and " dedicate at least five percent of Agriculture and Food Research Initiative funds to support classical breeding of public plant varieties." Not being voted on.
Today, Thursday, the Bill as a whole was passed, 64-35. For some reasons this is bewildering because it is so vast and expensive that it was thought to be impossible to pass in an election year. I'm guessing that food, international trade, and major corporate sponsors have significant power in getting bickering senators to put their big kid undies on and do their job.
An Introduction and Brief History of the Farm Bill
Ed Yowell and Fern Gale Estrow
See the bill
"Below is a complete list of the actions taken on all of the amendments considered by the Senate during debate regarding that chamber’s debate on the Senate version of the 2012 Farm Bill."
National AgLaw Center Graduate Assistant
Research Assistant Professor of Law
Harvard School of Public Health:
An interesting perspective. About half of Farm Bill funds support SNAP, which is a food stamp program. That's HALF OF THE ENTIRE BILL. It was originally to help farms indirectly by helping hungry people afford nutrition and connect people to farms. Instead, companies that profit the most from food stamps are banks, soft drink/snack food producers, and super stores like WalMart. I myself have used food stamps to buy soda and chocolate, and don't want to be the food police, but major improvements would help save money and promote health through these increasingly-needed programs, including curbing administrative costs and promotion of the little-known benefit of being able to use food stamps at farmers markets as well as to buy seeds and garden starts.
Under free trade, small farmers and the nation's ecology are suffering.
By Michael Pollan
The Los Angeles Times, April 23, 2004
By Dan Morgan, Gilbert M. Gaul and Sarah CohenWashington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, July 2, 2006
This seems reasonable until one compares this price to the average household food budget, average food stamp benefits, number of people per household, and cost of other foods to reach the same calories. $2.00 a day for the recommended fruits and vegetables means $60 a month for one adult.
In 2011, average food stamp benefits per participant were $133.84 (http://www.statehealthfacts.org/comparetable.jsp?cat=1&ind=26).
The USDA posted a report for March 2012 that lists and compares the “Cost of Food at Home at Four Levels.” For one adult male age 19-50 years old, a “Thrifty” Monthly food plan for a nutritious diet is $180. The “Low-Cost” plan is $232. (http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/Publications/FoodPlans/2012/CostofFoodMar2012.pdf)
Several personal finance websites recommend a food budget of 15% of income. The 2012 “Poverty Guidelines” for the United States, according to the Census Bureau, is $11,170 for one person, and $27,010 for a family of five. 15% of $11,170 is $139.63 a month. (http://aspe.hhs.gov/poverty/12poverty.shtml)"