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Disappointed With Farm Bill Subsidies, Reformers to Step Up Fight

As the 2007 farm bill takes final shape in Congress, an unprecedented wave of Bay Area activism aimed at forcing substantial change finds itself washing up on the shores of political reality.

"I think we had a chance to make it a really great farm bill, and it turned out to be the same old pork-belly politics," said Ann Cooper, director of nutrition services for the Berkeley Unified School District.

Cooper has been a vocal part of a broad coalition of nutrition, food, farm and environmental interests that mounted a national crusade this year, for the first time, to try to alter the direction of the nation's farm policy.

They argued that traditional crop subsidies, the heart of the bill, are as much about food as farming and have led to industrialized agriculture, pollution and widespread obesity and diabetes.

Now, with the Senate ready to vote next week on a bill that basically keeps the subsidies intact, responses by advocates for change range from disappointment to fury, plus a few faint cheers for extra money dispensed to California produce farmers, organic farming, conservation, and fruits and vegetables for schoolchildren.

"I'm not a happy camper. We didn't get a food and farm bill, we got a fat bill," said Dan Imhoff, a Sonoma County author whose book "Food Fight" advocates farm bill reform. "It's agribusiness as usual. It's high-fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oil for all, and it's at the expense of the land and the people and the taxpayers."

A handful of key advocates for change said Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, all Northern California Democrats, have proved disappointments, at least so far. 

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