Posted by on May 27, 2023 3:18 pm
Categories: News The Hill

This year’s Farm Bill needs big changes

This year’s Agriculture Improvement Act, commonly referred to as the “Farm Bill,” will invest a projected $700 billion over five years in U.S. food systems. If it replicates past failures, it will leave families and farmers insecure, excluding workers and farmed animals entirely while accelerating local and global environmental crises.

In short, it will put the profits of Big Ag over the rest of us: people, farmed animals and the planet.

Farm Bill investments and regulations should foster sustainable farmer opportunities and universal nutritional security, using plants and plant-based foods as essential means to accomplish shared ends. Instead, the Farm Bill will likely double down on the existing industrial agriculture investment model that supports millionaire landowners and billionaire investors at the expense of the rest of us. 

The bill, which will include funding for critical nutrition support nourishing over 40 million Americans, is a labyrinthine collection of titles covering credit, commodity insurance, research, conservation and other aspects of the U.S. food and farm system. These laws are so complex that even the most prominent food policy scholars describe breaking down the Farm Bill as insanity-inducing.

One way to imagine these non-nutrition titles is through their goals: to provide the legal and financial framework for industrial agriculture. Credit, commodity support and insurance create a system of guaranteed profits for the largest landowners — so long as these landowners invest in feed, fuel or foreign exports rather than food for their communities. In fact, the Agricultural Research Service, which is funded by the Farm Bill, invests more in product commercialization than nutrition, conservation and sustainability combined. 

This industrial agriculture philosophy causes massive harms to land, water and climate. Though conservation programs claim to prevent the worst of these, soil erosion continues at unsustainable rates, most U.S. rivers are “too polluted for our health,” and the Environmental Protection Agency continues to systematically underrepresent food systems’ contributions to the climate crisis. Specific regulations, such as requiring that 50 percent of federal Environmental Quality Incentives Program funding support animal agriculture, result in government greenwashing and simplistic generalizations that government and industrial agricultural corporations’ policies automatically incorporate such values. The Farm Bill, passed only twice per decade, essentially allows Big Ag to be paid to pollute and to clean up its messes.

Policymakers have long characterized the Farm Bill as a union between families and farmers. Without deliberate efforts to shift the bill’s underlying principles favoring industrial agriculture, this year’s Farm Bill will likely fail both families and farmers, despite any claims to the contrary. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 9 in 10 adults in the United States have poor dietary habits, as measured by fruit and vegetable consumption. According to the Environmental Working Group, 6 in 10 direct-to-farmer subsidies go to the top 7 percent of recipients. Instead of prioritizing universal nutritional security and sustainable farmer opportunities, the Farm Bill invests in scarcity and consolidation across the supply chain.

Shifting the Farm Bill requires a title-by-title approach. Oregon Rep. Earl Blumenauer’s Food and Farm Act takes a bold step in this direction. At his March 29 Capitol Hill legislative kickoff, our organizations joined advocates for farmers, the environment, human health, justice and farmed animals in a united call for reform. We need to make a commitment to food systems that nourish people today and ensure future generations can do the same. Now, we’re calling on Congress — for farmers, families and the rest of us — to put health and sustainability over Big Ag profits.

Alexandra Bookis is senior manager of U.S. government affairs at Farm Sanctuary.

Mark Rifkin, a registered dietician, is senior food and agriculture policy specialist at the Center for Biological Diversity.

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