policy wonking ahead

So what am I writing this thesis about, anyway?  Well, now that I’ve pulled my first sleepless night writing an outline, I can definitively inform you (not in small part because I myself was forced to figure it out)!

In short I’m looking at how agribusiness lobbies influence farm policy.  They have a huge amount of say in what and how we eat in America, and you can bet that they’re taking advantage of that.  The government is pouring taxpayer money into special interests and legislating policies that are detrimental to our health, our economy, and our environment- and Americans by and large are standing by and letting it happen.  Why is that?  How can we change that?  And so, without further ado, I’ll be posting some chapter outlines here, one at a time.  Let me know what you think!

Chapter 1:  Introduction

The great majority of American agriculture policy is legislated as part of the Farm Bill, an omnibus piece of legislation that comes out roughly every 5 years.  Various interests (i.e., agribusiness, food processors, relatively small constituent interests) have influenced the Farm Bill to the detriment of the food system; because of questionably sound agricultural policies the health (both corporal and economical) of the country has suffered.  This thesis will examine the extent to which these interests have had an effect on agricultural policies by examining three significant farm bills:  the Food and Agriculture Act of 1977, the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002, and the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008.

The Farm Bill sets commodity prices, and allocates money for domestic food aid (also known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP), conservation, rural development, nutrition education, and research.  Economically speaking, it’s a massive bill—not only does it allocate massive sums of money (the 2008 bill cost $604 billion over ten years[1]), but massive sums are spent on lobbying for it–$173.5 million for the same bill, more than was spent lobbying on Obama’s health care bill[2] —and yet it’s a largely ignored bill, except among farming communities and lobby groups.

Hundreds of billions of dollars are going to subsidize cheap commodity crops whose processing and sale generates revenue for the same deep-pocketed lobbyists who are funding the bill in the first place; it’s a cycle that’s damaging our health, our environment, and our economy.  Action needs to be taken, but that won’t happen unless the history and policy of the Farm Bill is better understood by the general American public.  This thesis will examine in depth the power politics surrounding farm bills, charting the increasing sway of industry over government through an examination of the nascent years of modern farm policy in the great depression; the increasing market- and export-focus of the 1973 farm bill (and its aftermath); the increasing disillusionment with subsidies that were nonetheless passed successfully in the 2002 farm bill; attempts at encouraging a more localized food system in 2008; and questioning the role of farm subsidies and agricultural lobbies in 2012.


[1] U.S. Congressional Research Service.  Actual Farm Bill Spending and Cost Estimates (R41195; December 13, 2010), by Jim Monke and Renée Johnson.  Accessed September 18, 2012.

[2] “Farm bill tops health care law in lobbying dollars,” San Francisco Chronicle, July 17,  2012.  Accessed 10 October 2012. http://blog.sfgate.com/nov05election/2012/07/17/farm-bill-tops-health-care-law-in-lobbying-dollars/

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