2008: changes in the farm bill?

The 2008 farm bill saw a step towards more diversified crops and local food systems, but without removing money from existing commodity crop subsidies.  This creates the false sense that funding for diversified crops and other non-industrial food items is something that is an ‘extra’- a luxury for when we have the money to afford it.  This establishes the conventional system of commodity subsidies as the norm- which is patently untrue.  The agriculture that is seen in America today- with its fencerow-to-fencerow Roundup-Ready corn- is very much an invention of the last 50 years, and to consider it a necessity of modern life is a dangerous proposition indeed.

Rather, it’s a product of a system where industry has undue power over government, where farming is a dying profession and people’s food becomes something alien.  Who controls the food controls the power, and to allow ourselves to be disenfranchised from our food source- to allow our government to become the soapbox of agribusiness, and to voluntarily surrender our agricultural (and nutritional) agency- is a foolish choice indeed.

In 2008 though, changes are starting to be made- superfluous-seeming as they are.  The Eggplant Caucus has faded into obscurity but people are beginning to demand change in their food system, and the farm bill reflects that.

 

Chapter 5:  Farm Policy in the 21st Century

            The 2008 farm bill—or the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008—ostensibly focused more on conservation and diversified crops, but it didn’t do much in the way of reducing commodity subsidies.  Regulations were tightened in theory, but there remained a number of ways in which large farms, for example, could continue to receive double payments by filing for direct payments under different legal identities.[1]  On the whole though, the 2002 subsidy levels were largely maintained, despite record farm profits—proposed cuts were only $40 million per year, when direct payments amounted to $5.2 billion per year.[2]

Small steps were made away from the massive-scale, industrial food system as Butz and Hardin imagined it in the 1970s—money was allocated towards small-scale farmer’s market development, agricultural policy was changed to allow for more access to fruits and vegetables grown for local consumption, and a pilot program that would ‘untie’ US food aid (i.e., using aid money to buy food within the country receiving aid rather than shipping pre-packaged and processed US grain abroad) was slightly expanded.  However these efforts remained chronically underfunded, especially when compared with commodity subsidies.[3]

The amount of money that goes into lobbying for the farm bill–$173.5 million for the 2008 bill alone, more than the amount of money spent lobbying for Obamacare[4] –attests to its power.  Every day that the 110th Congress was in session (in 2007 and 2008), an average of $539,000 was spent on lobbying for issues covered in the farm bill.  Despite growing calls from an increasingly health-conscious public, Congresspeople were still inclined to vote with their wallets.


[1] “Overview of the 2008 Farm Bill.”  The Center for Rural Affairs, May 2008.  Accessed 14 October 2012. http://www.cfra.org/newsletter/2008/05/overview-2008-farm-bill

[2] “Tentative Deal Reached in Congress on Farm Bill.”  The New York Times.  April 26, 2008.  Accessed 14 October 2012. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/26/washington/26farm.html?_r=2&ref=us&oref=slogin&

[3] “Success in the 2008 Farm Bill:  A New Direction for Farm and Food Policy.”  The American Farmland Trust, 2008.  Brochure.

[4] “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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