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America's Farm Bill: Good, Bad or Both?


The Environmental Working Group, best known for the "Dirty Dozen" and "Clean Fifteen" lists of fruits and vegetables most and least exposed to pesticides, has compiled data about the farm bill that Congress is expected to enact over the next 18 months.

Because only 2 percent of Americans are farmers, the bill is not publically discussed or even a well-covered topic in mainstream news outlets. And the EWG says it "embodies the worst kind of bipartisan logrolling and horse-trading."

While the bill's main focus should be providing healthy food, supporting family farms and caring for the environment, the EWG says instead, "there are a host of well-funded and well-connected interests that benefit greatly from the status quo. The list includes politicians looking to fill campaign coffers, corporate agri-chemical giants like Monsanto and Syngenta seeking to expand their markets, and big Ag’s public relations and lobby organizations, which cash in year after year."

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From the Organic Authority Files

In 2010, according to the EWG, the farm bill program spent nearly $100 billion, much of that in subsidies for commodity crops including corn, wheat, soy, rice and cotton. Instead of helping small family farms (who provide much of the fruits and vegetables recommended in the new "MyPlate" food pyramid), often the ones suffering the most, the subsidies go to support the largest and wealthiest farm operations who receive 74 percent of all subsidies.

Subsidies also go towards the production of synthetic fertilizers that cause harm to the soil, water and air quality. And monies designated for the "actively engaged" rule—intended to provide federal payments to people actually working on the land—went instead to more than 90,000 absentee owners and investors just in 2010.

But, the bill also allocates more than 65 percent of its funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (a.k.a. Food Stamps). It also funds the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program that brings healthy ingredients to schools, and another big chunk helps seniors access fresh produce with its Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program. And, wildlife preservation efforts will receive more than $4 billion this year to help farmers conserve soil and help to protect natural habitats for indigenous animals.

Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

Photo: royal_broil

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