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My NYU Food Policy class meets tonight and we’ll be talking about the farm bill and Dan Imhoff’s most helpful book Food Fight: The Citizens’ Guide to the Next Food and Farm Bill.
To review what’s up with the 2012 farm bill:
Congress updates farm bills every five years or so. It passed the last one in 2008, with an expiration date at midnight on September 30, 2012. This was the first time Congress ever set an expiration date to land in the midst of a presidential election. This was asking for trouble. Congress is paralyzed in election years.
That date has now come and gone.
But in June 2011, the Senate passed its version of the bill: The Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012.
The House, however, was unable to come to agreement on its version: The Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2012.
Why? Election-year politics and disagreements about whether and by how much the SNAP (food stamps) budget should be cut. More than 80% of farm bill spending goes to SNAP benefits—a whopping $72 billion last year–making it a prime target for budget cutting.
This situation puts us in farm bill limbo.
The significance of limbo is best explained by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC).
This leaves Congress with three options between now and January:
As NSAC explains:
The farm bill is the nation’s major food and agricultural policy vehicle and is about much more than the big ticket items: food stamps, crop insurance, and commodity support. The farm bill is also about conservation and environmental protection, rural economic and community development, food system reform and agricultural research.
With no new farm bill or extension, the programs that address rural and urban job creation, natural resource conservation, renewable energy, and improved production and access to healthy food are in big trouble.
This is a big mess, and a serious result of dysfunctional government. It will be interesting spectator sport to see how Congress handles it.
Will Congress find a way to bring agricultural policy in line with health policy?
Or will Congress simply do whatever is most expedient, given the budgetary mess it has also created.
It’s too bad so much is at stake.