The Farm Bill is the nation’s most sweeping piece of food and farming policy legislation, influencing nearly every aspect of our food system.
The bill provides critical financial assistance for people who struggle to afford food. But it also promotes environmentally harmful agricultural practicesand distorts prices with hefty subsidies that primarily fund corporate farming operations growing “commodities” like corn, soy, and wheat. As a result, unhealthy foods, like corn-fed meat and corn-based sweeteners, are usually far cheaper than fruits and vegetables.
Every few years the bill is revised in a process critics say is too closely guided by agribusiness interests. Food advocates scored a few victories in the 2008 version, like pilot programs supporting local food options for food assistance recipients. But author Michael Pollan says the bill still “preserves more or less intact the whole structure of subsidies responsible for so much that is wrong in the American food system.”
A revamped farm bill could revolutionize the food system. Advocates are beginning to organize now with the goal of radically changing the bill in 2012.
Top 4 Ways the Farm Bill Should Change
Here are four ways the Farm Bill should change to encourage vibrant regional food systems and create a nation of healthy eaters:
Reform the subsidies program to get rid of the unfair economic advantage held by corporate “commodity” farms and allow small family farmers and fruit and vegetable growers to become more competitive.
Allow food vouchers to be used regularly at farmers markets. The 2008 bill provides limited funding to link food assistance with local food. For instance, participants in the Women, Infants, and Children program get just $30 per year to spend at farmers markets. A good start, but a new bill could make local food a regular part of food assistance.
Increase funding for research on organic food and fruits and vegetables. Under the current farm bill, most federal research dollars are spent on commodity grains, meat, and oilseeds. We should focus our research funding on foods that improve health and protect our environment.
Make cafeteria lunches local. Equip publicly funded cafeterias at schools, prisons, hospitals, and government institutions with the funding and infrastructure to prepare meals from regional sources.
Anna Stern and Madeline Ostrander wrote this article as part of Food for Everyone, the Spring 2009 issue of YES! Magazine. Anna is an editorial intern and Madeline is senior editor at YES! Magazine.