“Power, money, bad traditions and bad attitudes have been ruling the Farm Bill”, said Ken Cook in San Francisco. He showed two maps to demonstrate how broken the system is. On the first one, the Bay Area disappeared under a thick blanket of pins designating farm-subsidy recipients–no matter that the region’s farms were notoriously displaced long ago by urban development. On the second map, the middle of the country was colored in red, indicating the location of the 22 districts that received half of all subsidies between 1995 and 2004, out of a total of 435 (see above).
Needless to say that the 2012 electoral climate is going to provide a most challenging context for the proponents of a Farm Bill built on new priorities. Their foolhardy enterprise is bound to pit them against the usual suspects. The American Farm Bureau, a powerful lobby in Washington that represents mostly the interests of the big farms and is a staunch supporter of the subsidies, is not about to let go of its grip over the current system. Interestingly enough, 23 Congress members are so entrenched in the latter as to have collected, either directly or through their family, over 5.8 million dollars of farm subsidies between 1995 and 2009 (91.6% of it went to 17 Republicans, six Democrats shared the rest).
Yet, there are also reasons to be optimistic. Unbeknowst to most of us, the Farm Bill funnels the largest amount of Federal funding to conservation programs: 22 billion dollars were thus invested through the last Bill. “And that’s only because outsiders [i.e. environmental and conservation advocates] insisted on it!” stressed Ken Cook.
“How about allocating 1 billion dollars to salad-bars in every school in the country? Let’s get kids hooked on good, healthy food, and reap huge health-care costs savings in the future!” he continued.
Maybe that’s not that far-fetched of a goal. According to Andrew Weil, all it would take for the elected officials to be swayed by public opinion is the mobilization of just 5% of us. Why does he suggest this? Because that’s what it took for the European Union to impose a moratorium on GMO in 1998. It may be wishful and somewhat naive, but we need all the scraps of encouraging signs available to remind ourselves that anything is actually possible if we, citizens of this big nation, put our collective mind to it.