Originally published in the Green Fire Times
Right now the 2012 Farm Bill, which I will refer to as the Food Bill, is under negotiation. Everyone who eats has a vested interest in the Food Bill. Why? Because we want to know where our food—our children’s and grandchildren’s food—comes from and how it is grown. There have been years of discussion as to how the Food Bill impacts all of the citizens of the world, the U.S. in particular. The 2012 Food Bill is a hugely important piece of legislation, evidenced in part by its size: with a budget of $288 billion, the Food Bill is the second-largest budget item in the United States, second only to the Department of Defense. It is the mechanism used to shape food policy in this country.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is the agency that manages all aspects of food production, food and nutrition programs, forestry, related research and education, as well as international trade policy. It also manages commodity programs, including the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), and the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). Nutritional programs (including food stamps) take up 70% of the budget, or $188 billion. The Food Bill is an omnibus bill that is passed every four years, though it sometimes takes longer, depending on Congress. The U.S. created its first form of a farm policy in the early 1930s to address job creation in rural areas. New legislation was introduced in 1936-1938 to address over/under production and protect farmers.
The food bill has a large impact on what every person in this country—and many other consumers around the globe—eat. However, the bill is being decided by a select few. Several members of Congress have been appointed to the Agriculture Committee from key agriculture states. These states have large agriculture economies based on agri-business approaches, follow the philosophy of “larger is better” and concentrate on large-scale food production for the purpose of efficiency. If a few senators and representatives with economic interests get to decide what we eat and how it is grown, it seems unlikely that the decisions made about our country’s food production will take our diets and health into consideration.