Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Nov 24 2017

Farm bill #5: EWG, NASC, and other resources

I.  The Environmental Working Group

It just released its farm subsidy database for 2015 and 2016.

The new information reflects the demands of the 2014 farm bill.

The findings:

  • $32.2 billion is the total cost of federal crop insurance, disaster, and conservation programs.
  • $14.5 billion of this went mainly to growers of corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton and rice.
  • $12 billion went to crop insurance subsidies.
  • $3.7 billion went for conservation.
  • $2 billion went to disaster assistance.
  • Deline Farms Partnership was the #1 recipient with $4 million in commodity subsidies.
  • The Navajo Agricultural Products Industry was #2 with $2.3 million.

The website is interactive.  You can click on states and counties.

Tomkins County, New York, where Ithaca is, got $25 million in federal subsidies.

It’s fun. Check it out.

EWG also released it’s Double-Dipping report on how taxpayers are subsidizing farmers twice for crop losses.

II. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC)

It organized dozens of farm organizations to sign a letter calling for greater investment in agriculture through the farm bill education-and-research title.

It also released An Agenda for the 2018 Farm Bill.  This focuses on investing in:

  • Beginning farmers and ranchers
  • Conservation
  • Regional food economies
  • Plant research
  • Risk management

III.  Representative Chellie Pingree (Dem-Maine) is also working on farm bill issues.  

Her particular focus is the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act:

  • Expands access to farmland
  • Ensures equitable access to financial capital and federal crop insurance
  • Encourages commitment to conservation and stewardship

Many people are working on farm bill reform.  It needs it.

Nov 23 2017

Farm bill #4: Happy Thanksgiving

Image result for thanksgiving farm bill

Nov 22 2017

Farm Bill #3: Philip Brasher’s guide

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Nov 21 2017

Farm Bill #2: Unlikely allies

Politics makes strange bedfellows, as documented by Politico in a report on the coalition of unlikely allies working to reform the farm bill.

Let me start with my favorite: The American Enterprise Institute (AEI), not exactly a bastion of radical thought.  The AEI puts out a series of thoughtful position papers, remarkable for their clarity, on a range of farm bill issues: Agriculture in Disarray.

To date, 6 have been published.

You may not agree with these American Boondoggle viewpoints, but you will have a good chance of understanding what the arguments are about.

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Nov 20 2017

Farm Bill #1: Earl Blumenauer’s bill

It’s Thanksgiving week and I can’t think of a better time to talk about the farm bill.

My starting place for thinking about this topic is a short article I wrote for Politico about the previous bill: The farm bill drove me insane.

Now, House member Earl Blumenauer (Dem-Oregon) has come up with an alternative: the Food and Farm Act.  Here’s how he explains it to Civil Eats.

n a video, he calls for reform and for fixing the existing farm bill.

He explains the philosophy behind his proposals in Growing Opportunities: Reforming the Farm Bill for Every American

Not only is the Farm Bill costly and expensive, its resources are misdirected. The legislation gives too much
to the wrong people to grow the wrong food in the wrong places. This misallocation is tragic because of the
power and reach of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) programs authorized by this legislation
every five years. The USDA is the only agency in the federal government that can build a community from
the ground up, and tackle issues like housing and infrastructure as well as all aspects of America’s farms and

To make this even easier, his campaign put together a small handbook in cartoon format: The Fight for Food: Why You Deserve a Better Farm Bill.  This is a terrific beginner’s guide, the best way I’ve ever seen to get started.

The main difficulty with the farm bill for everyone other than a lobbyist is that the issues get wonky right away.  Even the handout on  the highlights of Blumenauer’s bill has lots of wonky details and requires close attention.

I particularly like what he proposes as Title IX: Regional Food Systems (my translations):

  • Identifies the benefits
  • Expands federal investment
  • Increases funding for specialty crops (USDA-speak for fruits and vegetables)
  • Invests in local and regional systems infrastructure
  • Funds local and regional meat processing
  • Increases transparency of USDA’s grant process
  • Protects small farmers from retaliation

Idealistic?  Yes!

Possible?  Maybe, if we can ever get the political will.

Here’s something positive to support.  Get to work!

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Nov 17 2017

Weekend perusals: Food system policy databases

Policy wonks, students, advocates:  If you are looking for data on what countries are doing to promote healthier people and food systems, check out these resources:

Advocates: these are great sources of ideas.

Nov 16 2017

Food Policy Action’s 2017 Scorecard on Congressional Votes

Food Policy Action has released its annual scorecard, evaluating how our federal legislators vote on food issues.  In case you haven’t noticed, they aren’t voting on much these days so there wasn’t much to score.

In the Senate, there was only one vote (on the nomination of Scott Pruitt as USDA Secretary), although ten bills were introduced.

In the House, there were five votes and 11 bills.

Overall scores averaged 49%—dismal.

The site has a handy interactive map; click on it to see how your legislators are voting.

In case you want to see just how badly Congress is doing, I’ve been posting these scorecards since they started:

One thought: maybe it’s just as well.

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Nov 15 2017

Sugar industry politics, 2017 style

If you search this site for “Sugar Policy,” you will get lots of items over the years.

Now, several members of Congress have introduced a bill, the Sugar Policy Modernization Act, to remove price supports and repeal marketing allotments and quotas.

These keep the price of sugar produced in the U.S. artificially high, but not so high that the public complains.

Industrial users of sugar—candy and soda makers, for example—want to buy sugar at cheaper worldwide market rates.

Good luck with trying to do this. Big Sugar is happy with the current system and lobbies with great effect to make sure it stays that way.

Representatives from the House Sugar Caucus (yes, there is one) sent a letter to fellow members of Congress urging them to vote against this proposal.

The Sugar Program Modernization Act would upend this success and reward the world’s worst subsidizers at the expense of U.S. sugar farmers. While a handful of food manufacturers would benefit under the Sugar Program Modernization Act, farmers, sugar workers, rural communities, and consumers would lose out. That is too steep a price to pay so multinational food conglomerates can pad their profits.

But politics makes strange bedfellows.  The American Enterprise Institute has a new analysis of sugar policies. Its key points?

  • The US sugar program is a protectionist scheme destined to transfer income to sugar growers and processors at the cost of sugar users and consumers.
  • The losses to consumers and users are large in aggregate for the country, in the order of $2.4–$4 billion.
  • The major recommendation is the total removal of the sugar program’s main components, including tariff-rate quotas, allotments, and sugar loan rates.

It’s hard to know how this will play out this year.  History favors a win for Big Sugar.  They run politics in Louisiana and Florida,  But this too will be interesting to watch.


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