“We need to get the Farm Bill renamed the Food and Farm Bill!” claimed Andrew Weil, M.D., the celebrity integrative medicine guru, at a fund-raising dinner thrown this week in San Francisco by the Environmental Working Group. “It’s a hugely important piece of legislation that affects our health and the costs of health-care”, he added.
One big function of the Farm Bill is to allocate subsidies to farmers. And as it stands today, it “makes unhealthy foods cheap, and healthy foods expensive”, as Andrew Weil pointed out.
Fresh vegetable consumption has declined by nine pounds per person over the past ten years in the United States. Despite the Federal nutritional guidelines that recommend we eat five-to-nine servings of fruits and vegetables a day, taxpayers’ money has been channeled quasi-exclusively to promote commodity crops with no public health benefit whatsoever.
And yet, the Farm Bill should really be called the “Nutrition Bill”, as Ken Cook, president and co-founder of the Environmental Working Group, put it this week at the Earth Dinner. For its biggest fund allocation is the food-stamp program (SNAP), tagged at 314 billion dollars in the 2008-2012 Bill for 44 million eligible individuals, half of whom are children. The 4.5-billion-dollar Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, designed to provide more healthful school meals to a great number of students and signed into law by President Obama last December, is to be funded with the same pool of money.
The Farm Bill is debated and voted by Congress every five years. Its latest installment allocated 60 billion dollars to farmers who grow commodities–corn, soybeans, cotton, rice and wheat. These mostly provide cheap feed for livestock and biofuel processing, as well as raw material for highly processed, nutrient-empty foods. No fresh produce grower benefits from such government generosity. Furthermore, subsidies reward scale and monocrops. As such, they’re considered to provide industrial agriculture with a huge and unfair advantage.
As Congressional conversations have already gone under way ahead of next’s year vote on the new Bill, health and nutrition advocates have started mobilizing, joined by sustainable farming activists and local foodsheds supporters, with a view of shifting the priorities enacted in the next Bill.