It’s that time again… time for Congress to rewrite and re-pass the Farm Bill. Who cares, you say? Well, you should if you care about healthy food, clean water and how much those things cost.
Every five years or so, Congress takes another pass at rewriting and passing the Farm Bill, which covers federal spending for farm, nutrition and conservation programs, and it’s up for renewal again in 2012. We’ve rounded up the top five things every American consumer should know about the Farm Bill from the website farmbillprimer.org and the Environmental Working Group.
1. It’s Your Money
The Farm Bill dictates about $96 billion taxpayer dollars a year in spending on things like conservation programs and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as the food stamp program). But most of it goes to subsidies for the five biggest commodity crops: corn, cotton, rice, wheat and soybeans. These subsidies get paid out to farmers, regardless of whether they need the assistance or not. And, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the top 10 percent of the wealthiest farmers in the country receive 74 percent of the subsidies.
2. It’s Your Food
Only a teeny tiny fraction of the Farm Bill actually goes to support healthy foods like fruits and vegetables—even though the Obama administration and Mrs. Obama in particular have told the country that fruits and vegetables should make up half our plates at every meal. Because most of the money goes to suppor crops that are grown on an industrial scale and are highly fertilizer and pesticide dependent, the result is that it actually harms the soil, the water supply, and the farmers who are growing healthy foods and organic foods.
3. It’s Your Grandparents and Your Kids
The Farm Bill does do a lot of good things, too, like the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program and the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program which help get fresh fruits and veggies onto the plates of seniors and school children, respectively. But these sorts of programs are often the first to be removed when lawmakers are looking for ways to trim the price tag of the Farm Bill to help balance the budget.
4. It’s Your Environment
While a lot of big promises are made by lawmakers about protecting wildlife that never manifest, the Farm Bill actually did provide more than $4 billion this year to help farmers to conserve soil, clean up the water, and protect habitat for wildlife. But these programs are easy targets for lawmakers looking to make cuts because dirt and water don’t have lobbyists.
5. It’s Your Turn
Even though only two percent of the country is actively engaged in farming, we all have a say in what goes into the Farm Bill. The first step is to educate yourself, and farmbillprimer.org is a great place to start; they have an ongoing roundup of news articles, facts and interactive tools to help us all understand this complex law. Write to your congressperson and let them know that healthy food and a healthy environment are important to you. And then head over to sign the Environmental Working Group’s petition to congress to help turn the Farm Bill into a food bill.