by Marion Nestle
Dec 11 2011

The farm bill hackathon: results and a plea for more

Grist and Food and Tech Connect have excellent reports on last week’s Farm Bill Hackathon.  This event brought together farm bill experts and designers to try to produce materials that make farm bill issues accessible.

The terrific winning entry: A Clean Farm Bill of Health slideshow illustrating the contradiction between USDA dietary advice policy and that for farm supports.

I could not participate in the Hackathon but having just taught a class on the farm bill I know what I’d like to have: a complete text of the farm bill annotated to include all of the relevant information.

The 663-page 2008 farm bill is readily accessible online, but it is unreadable (by me at least).   This is because it refers to previous bills and other Acts of Congress, which in turn refer to previous bills and Acts, in some cases going back to 1933.

You don’t believe me?  Try this entirely typical section, chosen at random:

Section 502(b) of the Federal Crop Insurance Act (7 U.S.C.
1502(b)) is amended—
(1) by redesignating paragraphs (7) and (8) as paragraphs
(8) and (9), respectively; and
(2) by inserting after paragraph (6) the following:
‘‘(7) ORGANIC CROP.—The term ‘organic crop’ means an
agricultural commodity that is organically produced consistent
with section 2103 of the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990
(7 U.S.C. 6502).’’.

It would be so nice to have a text that gives the relevant information in one place: what the Federal Crop Insurance Act says, what paragraphs 7 and 8 are all about, and what’s in section 2103 of the 1990 Act.

Hackers: anyone want to take this on?

  • Daniel

    It’s not exactly what you’re looking for, but the Legal Information Institute has a pretty nice annotated, hyperlinked version of the CFR (Code of Federal Regulations), that stays current with the law and agency regs. Here’s the link for Title 7: Agriculture.

    The official gov’t CFR site is

  • Jon

    No surprise. Consider the Patriot Act in its entirety. 99% of it was amendment after amendment.

    It’s a great way to confuse people.

  • Eden Balfour

    Concerned Reader, please check your reading comprehension. Marion did not say she didn’t understand it; she called it “unreadable”, which is commonly understood to mean “written in such an inapproachable way that it discourages the reader from reading it.”

    But do continue making your faux-intelligent comments; I find them amusing.

  • Eden Balfour

    Concerned Reader, I appreciate your extension of condescension to me! You are winning friends and influencing people!

    I think a hyperlinked version of the Farm Bill would be awesome – no flipping back and forth pages, referring to other texts, etc.

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