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Farm Bill Fiasco: What Next for the Food Movement?

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Deciding how America will nourish itself and sustain its farms would seem a top policy priority- yet as the US Farm Bill demonstrates, sustainably grown, healthy food and livable incomes for farmers and workers remain an afterthought in a process controlled almost entirely by agribusiness and a handful of farm-state legislators. Despite strong public opinion supporting local food, farmer's markets, organic agriculture, food workers' rights and access to fresh produce, agribusiness and commodity interests continue to dominate food and farming policy.

That's largely due to their prodigious lobbying clout: agribusiness spent $137 million last year muscling Congress to do its bidding and another $46.6 million on federal candidates (about 60 percent Republican) in 2010. 1 This phalanx of power includes commodity producer groups like the American Corn Growers Association; corporate food processors and purveyors such as Kraft and Dean Foods; the Farm Bureau; dairy and meat industry giants; and seed and petrochemical corporations like Monsanto.

On the other side, armed with ideas and passion but little money, stand hundreds of groups from across the US pressing Congress on an array of policies-including commodity subsidy reform, fair prices for farmers, public monies for local foods and small farmers, and conservation and nutrition funding. With a handful of lobbyists and diverse interests, they fight doggedly for small wedges of the Farm Bill pie.

But is the Farm Bill a productive venue for food movements to make meaningful change in food and farming policy?    

Reforms Thrown Off the Cliff

In the 2012-2013 version, after months of work by dozens of advocacy groups, a promising Farm Bill sponsored by Michigan Senator and agriculture committee chair Debbie Stabenow -protecting nutrition and conservation while reforming subsidy inequities and supporting local food-was hijacked in a New Year's Eve "fiscal cliff " budget deal struck by Senator Mitch McConnell and Vice President Joe Biden.   


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