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Organic Consumers Association

Farm Bill Reflects Shifting American Menu and a Senator's Persistent Tilling

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WASHINGTON - The farm bill signed by President Obama last month was at first glance the usual boon for soybean growers, catfish farmers and their ilk. But closer examination reveals that the nation's agriculture policy is increasingly more whole grain than white bread.

Within the bill is a significant shift in the types of farmers who are now benefiting from taxpayer dollars, reflecting a decade of changing eating habits and cultural dispositions among American consumers. Organic farmers, fruit growers and hemp producers all did well in the new bill. An emphasis on locally grown, healthful foods appeals to a broad base of their constituents, members of both major parties said.

"There is nothing hotter than farm to table," said Representative Bill Huizenga, a Michigan Republican from a district of vast cherry orchards.

While traditional commodities subsidies were cut by more than 30 percent to $23 billion over 10 years, funding for fruits and vegetables and organic programs increased by more than 50 percent over the same period, to about $3 billion.

Fruit and vegetable farmers, who have been largely shut out of the crop insurance programs that grain and other farmers have enjoyed for decades, now have far greater access. Other programs for those crops were increased by 55 percent from the 2008 bill, which expired last year, and block grants for their marketing programs grew exponentially.

In addition, money to help growers make the transition from conventional to organic farming rose to $57.5 million from $22 million. Money for oversight of the nation's organic food program nearly doubled to $75 million over five years.

Programs that help food stamp recipients pay for fruits and vegetables - to get healthy food into neighborhoods that have few grocery stores and to get schools to grow their own food - all received large bumps in the bill.

The new attention and government money devoted to healthy foods stem from the growing market power of those segments of the food business, as well as profound shifts in nutrition policy and eating habits across the country.    


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