Politics, as they say, makes strange bedfellows. Today’s San Francisco Chronicle has the best article I’ve ever read on the farm bill, which is now making its way out of conference committees (see previous posts). Here’s how reporter Carolyn Lochhead starts out: “It is the rarest of moments. President Bush and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi are on a collision course over a giant farm bill, but it is Bush who is broadly aligned with liberal Bay Area activists pushing for reform, while the San Francisco Democrat is protecting billions of dollars in subsidies to the richest farmers.” The interest groups slated to get pieces of this $300 billion chunk of taxpayer dollars dare not complain about it, out of fear that a more rational public policy would be worse for them. That’s politics for you, at its most raw.
Currently browsing posts about: Farm-policy
So the Wall Street Journal thinks doing anything about the “thicket of hard-to-cut programs” in the Farm Bill is hopeless. If anything, it looks like subsidies will go up. Reason #1: $80 million worth of agribusiness lobbying last year. Reason #2: this is an election year. If you aren’t up on the ins and outs of Farm Bill politics, this article is a good place to begin. Check out the interactive map and complain! It won’t hurt and it might help at some point.
So after all that fuss about nutrition standards in the Farm Bill (see previous post on the topic), the Senate dropped them from its version. So now advocates for school nutrition are back to square one. Here’s what the Washington Post has to say about this fiasco. On the bright side, this failure to act gives advocates a chance to get to work at the state level and put even better standards in place. Onward!
I can’t help getting caught up in the arguments about school nutrition standards, particularly because I was quoted in an article about them in the New York Times last week. I am very much of two minds on the subject:
On the one hand: My understanding is that Senator Harkin thinks that his plan for school nutrition standards is the best that can be expected in the current administration. Will the next Farm Bill do something better? I have no idea. So from a pragmatic standpoint, Harkin’s bill is worth supporting. It will get the worst foods out of most schools in most places.
On the other hand:
On the other hand:With that said, I personally do not favor setting up nutrient-based criteria for deciding which foods are in or out. I think such standards are a slippery slope. If you set those kinds of standards, food companies will simply formulate products to slip just under the cut points. Does a gram of sugar make that much difference? I don’t think so. My personal view is that schools shouldn’t sell competing foods at all and that vending machines should be removed from schools. Out! Vending machines didn’t used to be in schools and they don’t have to be there now. But, as I like to explain, I have tenure and I get to take principled positions on such matters.
And, if you read Portuguese, you can see further comments on this site.
And here’s what the New York Times editorial writers have to say about this issue.
So now the Senate has blocked action on the Farm Bill, perhaps to give President Bush a break so he won’t have to veto it, which is what he said he would do. As I suggested in my last post on the topic, the Bill is hopeless to understand: 1360 pages, 17 of them just for the Table of Contents. They should all be ashamed. It’s time to elect congressional representatives who represent the public interest and care about issues like sustainability and health. I wonder how we can do that?
Today’s New York Times has a story on little known provisions of the Farm Bill that benefit old barns, artisanal cheese makers, and asparagus and peanut growers. Personally, I am in favor of doing anything to promote artisanal cheese and asparagus but I doubt these provisions will survive. I have to say that the Farm Bill leaves me paralyzed. For starters, it’s 1360 pages. And finding it is not all that easy. Start by going to the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry (an odd combination, no?). If you click on “2007 Farm Bill Updates and Info,” you get summaries. For the real thing, click on “Final Committee Reports and Documents,” and then on “Final Reported Farm Bill.” Wait patiently until it downloads and see what you can make of it. This would be funny if it didn’t matter so much.
Today’s New York Times has a nifty op-ed from Michael Pollan on the Farm (Food!) Bill. The Bill might be voted on this week. I suppose there is still time to scream and shout about how it needs to be brought in line with health considerations, although it’s hard to retain much optimism at this point. The Farm Bill is a terrific illustration of the ways in which agriculture is linked to food, nutrition, and health, but it also is a terrific example of why our corrupt electoral system needs fixing. If we want our representatives to put public health above corporate health, we need to find a much better way to fund election campaigns. Let’s start working on all of this right now!
The Senate Agricultural Committee voted to continue $288 billion in farm subsidies, as well it might. Its members must have lots of friends among the top 1% of subsidy beneficiaries, those who (according to the Chicago Tribune) collectively get 17% of the cash–an average of $377,484 each. At this point, nobody expects much good to come out of the farm bill, due to be voted on next week. Reformers say they just don’t have the votes. I guess we’ll just have to start organizing now for the next round.