You might know that Congress is failing to come to agreement on a new Farm Bill. This is important because the Farm Bill governs agriculture and food policy at the federal level for about five years at a time. The last Farm Bill was passed in 2008, but it has not yet been renewed because there is lack of agreement on what our national food policy should be.
Although there are many factors that influence the workings of our national food supply and distribution, this piece of legislation is the closest thing we have to a national food policy. Not surprisingly, it always stirs controversy.
There are certain things about food on which most everyone could agree: It’s important that we have a vibrant and sustainable food-production system. It’s important that our food is safe and nutritious.
I believe it’s unconscionable that in a land of many resources, there are people who go hungry and children who are undernourished; we need a system that assures this does not happen.
The problem is that it is difficult for people to agree on what we need to do to achieve these goals.
The name “Farm Bill” might be confusing because this legislation is not only about farms. It is an omnibus bill that includes 15 different titles that include agricultural research, trade, commodity price and income supports, rural development, bioenergy, land conservation and forestry, among others.
The biggest single funding area in the bill is federal nutrition programs, which in the 2008 Farm Bill represented fully two-thirds of expenditures. So the bill really is more about food than about farms.
The overall five-year expenditures in the 2008 bill totaled $189 billion, and 97 percent of the spending went to four titles. These were: nutrition, 67 percent; farm commodity support, 15 percent; conservation, 9 percent; and crop insurance, 8 percent. The nutrition title includes the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the Emergency Food Assistance Program and the National School Lunch Program.
So you can see that this large piece of legislation can have a lot to do with what foods are produced, but also what food is available to those people more at risk of food insecurity, especially children.
The bill influences decisions about what crops are produced, how much they are worth, and how farmers are compensated, as well as how land can be managed for food production versus conservation uses. There typically are big disputes about how to best influence agricultural production, and toward what ends.
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