Thomas Jefferson believed that the U.S. ought to be a nation of small farmers, each owning his own land, independent and self-sufficient. But the new farm bill is all about what’s wrong with food production in the U.S. now. A quick review of the $1 trillion 2013 farm bill — it’s actually the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012; Congress didn’t get around to passing it last year — not only makes it clear how small farmers are second-class citizens, but also pushes for chemical sugar substitutes and GMO food and fails to take provisions to prepare American agriculture for climate change.
If that’s not enough, the bill also cuts food stamps to the poor by about $20.5 billion.
Cuts to Food Stamp Program
It is the case that food stamp usage is up by at least 70 percent since the financial crisis in 2008. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is spending an estimated $70 billion on the program this year.
The new farm bill, which every Republican on the House Agriculture Committee has approved, will cut some $20 billion in food stamps over the next decade. That means nearly two million people, mostly from low-income working families with kids and older Americans, will be hungry and that as many as 210,000 children could lose access to free school lunches and breakfasts due to their eligibility for these being linked to their family’s food stamp benefits.
In addition, the new bill would eliminate food stamps for anyone who has ever been convicted of a crime, a provision that will fall disproportionately on those in poor, urban areas. Some lawmakers have also wanted to cut the program due to people using food stamps for things like energy drinks, overlooking the fact that it’s just not possible to find fresh, healthy food in many of America’s cities.
Sugar Substitutes and GMO Seeds Get the Go-Ahead
Not that the new farm bill goes out of its way to promote healthy food.
The bill in effect pushes for the use of chemical sugar substitutes as it sets a minimum price for sugar. As a result, U.S. companies will seek out cheaper chemical-based sugar substitutes, including high-fructose corn syrup, which has clearly been implicated as a factor in obesity rates among Americans.
A rider in the bill, The Monsanto Protection Act, is very aptly named. This act lets large agriculture companies sell GMO seeds before they are tested, bypassing the USDA requirement that the seeds first be tested for any harmful effects on humans. What’s more, the act would keep the USDA from not letting companies from selling these seeds, should they be found dangerous to our health.
Climate Change? What’s That?
Last summer, we saw image after image of farmers standing beside desiccated crops. Drought continues to plague much of the U.S.; floods and changes in rainfall have also been taking their toll. Yet the new farm bill makes very few provisions for helping U.S. farmers prepare for climate change, via funding for clean, renewable energy. The House bill designates no mandatory funding for promoting the use sustainable energy; only about 11 percent of the Senate bill provides outlays for such over the next five years.
The House is debating the new farm bill in June; it is not yet clear when the Senate will.
Only about 12 percent of American farms have sales of more than $250,000. Indeed, fewer than 1 in 4 of U.S. farms in this country produces more than $50,000 in revenues. Larger farms do more damage to the environment through pesticide and fertilizer runoff, plus their mammoth size makes it impossible for consumers to learn more about their food than what’s printed on the label. But the new bill continues to promote large-scale industry farming via crop subsidies — that is, the new farm bill is really about the U.S. farming industry and is about as far from the “nation of farmers” that Jefferson envisioned as can be imagined.
Photo from Thinkstock