Simplifying and taking action on the Food and Farm Bill

Farm Bill Special Action iconA few weeks ago, Whigsboy left a comment on one of my Food and Farm Bill posts that expressed some frustration: "I have tried to follow this bill, but I am thoroughly confused, and it’s extremely frustrating because I’d like to contact my legislator and tell him what I’d like to see him support, but at this point I don’t know what I’d even say." The comment is something I should have replied to quickly, but I was affected by Food and Farm Bill overload around the day of the House vote, and I'm just getting over it. Fortunately, the Senate won't be taking up the legislation immediately.

Whigsboy's sentiment is probably not uncommon. The Food and Farm Bill is tremendously complex (there's an entire book about it, Dan Imhoff's "Food Fight"), few people fully understand all of its parts and programs (I am certainly not one of those people), and those who say they do often disagree about where the problems lie (some people say subsidies are the symptom, not the cause, of the problems in U.S. agriculture). Nonetheless, it is possible to boil the issues down to a few basic principles that can be the focus of a letter, call, or fax to your members of Congress. Because we don't tell you what to think here at the Ethicurean, I'm posing these as questions, somewhat rhetorical as you can probably guess how I would answer them:

  • Should the bill limit how much someone receives in farm subsidies? Should any farms be receiving millions in taxpayer dollars? (This article in the Parsons Sun looks at the effect of subsidies on farm size)
  • Should a millionaire be receiving federal crop subsidies? (An Op Ed by the EWG's Michelle Perez discusses this issue, as does Dan Owens at Blog for Rural America)
  • Should we pay farmers for how much crop they can squeeze from each acre, or for how well they take care of the land?
  • Should organic farming research receive more or less funding?
  • With demand for organic food growing far faster than supply, should the bill provide help for farmers to switch to organic methods? (this post by me has some thoughts on the subject)
  • Is the purpose of farm policy to encourage the production of cheap food at any cost, or to preserve small farms?
  • Should the Food and Farm Bill provide funding to support urban agriculture?
  • Should our nation continue to eat subsidize commodity-based junk in school lunches, or can federal policy help bring more fresh fruits and vegetables to school?

When writing to your senators, it can also be helpful to ask them to co-sponsor bills that contain true reform or progressive initiatives, like Sen. Menendez's Healthy Farms, Foods, and Fuels Act of 2007 (S. 919) or Sen. Lugar's Farm Risk Management Act for the 21st Century (S. 1422).

It's not too late to contact your senators. With the bill due to be considered in the next few weeks, a phone call or fax is best (letters might be held up by security scanning). You can find sample letters at Om Organics, California Coalition for Food and Farming, and Bread for the World. For insight into what happens after your communication is received in a congressional office -- and how to have the most impact -- consult this post at Firedoglake.

2 Responsesto “Simplifying and taking action on the Food and Farm Bill”

  1. Brian Depew says:

    Great post, Marc. It's important for us to remember to be as clear as possible when talking about farm bill reform. You do a good job of boiling down a few of the key points as well.

  2. Sara says:

    The American Farmland Trust, whose mission includes keeping farmland in farming, has designated today as a a national call-in day to Washington in support of the critical conservation-oriented funding in the food and farm bill. See or go to