There has been plenty of discussion about the 2007 Food and Farm Bill in past weeks and months, but no one has been quite sure when exactly when the bill would be written. A short post at Congressional Quarterly changes that:
Rep. Collin C. Peterson, D-Minn., chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, said today that markups will begin the week of May 21 on at least three titles of the 2007 farm bill. [Ethicurean note: the term "markup" refers to the process of finalizing the content and scope of a bill in a committee or subcommittee]
Rep. Peterson's fixing of a date means that it is time for us to write and call Congress to ask for a new kind of Food and Farm Bill. One that emphasizes real, clean food over monocultured commodities and factory farms. One that puts citizens above subsidies. One that will help restore lands that have been ravaged by decades of abuse. If you live outside of the "Farm Belt" (i.e., the heavily subsizided Midwest and Great Plains), it is especially important to write to Congress because the Food and Farm Bill will not pass without support of lawmakers from urban and suburban districts--it is possible that urban lawmakers are not paying attention to ag issues. And if you are in the Farm Belt and want to see real reform, it is valuable to present your views to members of Congress, as they most often hear about food policy from Big Ag and Big Food lobbyists. (Address and phone numbers for Representatives and Senators)
Via the New York Farm Bill Workgroup, I discovered a straightforward Farm Bill Action Guide for citizens at Om Organics, an organization with a mission of "educating the community on the health, environmental and economic benefits of local, sustainable food production; helping people appreciate and access sustainably grown products in the local region; and helping farms better meet the needs of the community." Their action guide has background on the Food and Farm Bill, ideas for letters and a possible time-line for the legislation.
Controlling Chaos or Blocking Reform?
Peterson also announced that his committee would be the sole source of the Food and Farm Bill legislation. He claims it is to avoid the "chaos" of drafting the legislation on the House floor, but could it be a way to keep those meddlesome urbanites and suburbanites from affecting significant reform of agricultural policy?
Sure, bottling up all legislation in the Agriculture Committee might reduce chaos, but the Food and Farm Bill is about so much more than "Agriculture." It's about how much this nation will spend on obesity, heart disease, and diabetes in the coming decades; how we fuel our vehicles; what children eat in school; whether an out of work family goes hungry; whether streams and lakes teem with fish or with toxic feedlot sludge.
Ken Cook over at the Environmental Working Group's Mulch blog posted a long response to Rep. Peterson's announcement, including some musings about Speaker Pelosi's intentions:
Which raises the question on everyone's minds these days: how will Speaker Pelosi handle the pressure for farm bill reform that began mounting before the ink dried on the notorious 2002 version? After all, not a single progressive group in America supports the farm bill framework now in place, with its inequities, injustices, and misguided, wasteful spending priorities. Indeed, we have never seen so many progressive organizations actively working on farm bill reform. And they are finding they have far more in common with conservatives than they have with any farm groups, who by and large are clinging to the status quo, along with the politicians who represent them. Most of whom, naturally, are on the agriculture committee.
Will Pelosi really instruct--or tacitly signal--Democrats to approve whatever the House Agriculture Committee delivers, sometime this summer or fall? Will she discourage consideration of ideas found in the proliferation of "marker bills" that seek to tighten payment limits; shift billions out of commodity subsidies and into conservation, nutrition and rural development; give fruit and vegetable producers meaningful support; or refashion the farm safety net altogether? Will she say that when it comes to farm policy, the House has 46 members, not 435?
Is Mr. Peterson's fiat Speaker Pelosi's choice?
Read the whole thing here.