The Republican Farm Bill is as Broken as our Food System

The Republican Farm Bill is as Broken as our Food System

Originally posted on Food Tank.

As Congress battles over this year’s Farm Bill — the massive US$87 billion a year legislation dictating the nation’s food and farming policies — it’s critical we spend all this money wisely.

As taxpayers and eaters, everyone has a stake in making sure this huge investment results in a healthier food system for the future. One that promotes nutritious food, produced without the toxic pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) that eaters are increasingly rejecting in the marketplace. One that is climate-friendly, regenerative, and supports a rich diversity of small and mid-sized farmers who are the backbone of rural communities across the U.S. And one that ensures clean water, air, and healthy soils for generations to come.

Instead, the Republican Farm Bill — scheduled for markup in the House Agriculture Committee today –– puts the environment and public health at risk by continuing to prop up a broken food and agriculture system based on heavily polluting factory farms, genetically engineered mono-crops, processed foods, exploitative labor conditions, and over-dependence on chemical and energy-intensive pesticides and fertilizers.

Trump and the Republicans are promoting highly partisan, regressive, and unjust policies that would expand corporate welfare for mega-farms while slashing conservation programs, eliminating programs that support local, organic, and sustainable farmers and rural economies, and cutting vital nutrition funds for hungry families. It’s Robin Hood in reverse — taking from small-scale farmers and low-income families to further enrich agribusiness, factory farms, and crop insurance companies.

In an ironic and cruel twist, the Republican Farm Bill would require stricter work requirements for food assistance recipients —resulting in a cut of US$9 billion — while eliminating requirements that farm subsidy recipients actually work on their farm. This bill would roll back several other important subsidy reforms —including payment limitations and means testing aimed at leveling the playing field for smaller-scale farms that find it harder to compete with highly capitalized large-scale operators. Limitless subsidies to mega-farms proposed in this bill will drive land costs up, small farmers out, and result in increased concentration in the agricultural sector. Congress must oppose this shameless attempt to further transform what should be a real farm safety net into bottomless handouts to the mega-farms that need it least.

At a time when a growing ecological crisis requires greater protection of our natural resources, the Republican Farm Bill would gut working lands conservation programs by at least US$5 billion, effectively eliminate a critical conservation program that supports integrated, holistic farming practices (the Conservation Stewardship Program), and scuttle key conservation reforms needed to better protect soil and water resources. The GOP proposal also weakens the conservation compliance program for wetlands and fails to expand this program to all of our grasslands, a much-needed reform to prevent the massive plowing up and conversion of carbon-rich grasslands into industrial commodity production.

In addition to slashing conservation programs that help farmers shift away from pesticide-intensive farming that threatens bees, butterflies, and other pollinators, the Republican bill proposes a number of dangerous provisions that would weaken pesticide protections. It attacks the Endangered Species Act, essentially codifying a request by Dow Chemical for Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt to ignore pesticides’ many harms to endangered species. If passed, this could accelerate the extinction of species, from salmon and wild bees to California condors. The GOP bill would also preempt the right of local governments to restrict certain uses of pesticides and would weaken restrictions on methyl bromide, a highly toxic soil fumigant.

Regrettably, the GOP bill also threatens a key alternative to pesticide-intensive farming: organic.  It proposes a major weakening of the National Organic Standards Board, a group of 15 citizen advisers who are key to maintaining the integrity of organics. And it zeroes out funding for the National Organic Certification Cost Share, a highly valued program that helps thousands of small and mid-size farmers afford organic certification. The $10 million increase in organic research is a tiny bright spot in an otherwise dismal bill, yet falls far short of what is needed to meet demand.

For the sake of America’s farmers and eaters, Congress must soundly reject this deeply regressive GOP Farm Bill.

For both farmers and eaters, the Republican Farm Bill sends the wrong messages and incentives. We are told to fill at least half of our plates with fruits and vegetables, yet only a tiny fraction of the Farm Bill promotes the production and marketing of these healthy foods. Instead, the bill contains massive support for commodity crops that are primarily used for livestock feed, climate-polluting fuel, and junk foods.

This Farm Bill doubles down on support for intensely polluting factory farms and pesticide-intensive agriculture, while eliminating vital programs that provide local farmers and ranchers with critical infrastructure, education, and marketing assistance. By eliminating the National Organic Certification Cost-Share Program, the Value-Added Producer Grants Program, and the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program, this bill undermines the ability of beginning, local, and organic producers and ranchers to effectively meet the surging demand for locally produced, higher-welfare, pasture-raised, grass-fed meat and dairy products and organic food.

As Trump’s trade war with China continues to threaten the well-being of American farmers, it is more important than ever that this Farm Bill provide an economic boost to rural communities across America by supporting a rich diversity of farmers producing a wide array of healthy crops for local and regional domestic markets.

For the sake of America’s farmers and eaters, Congress must soundly reject this deeply regressive GOP Farm Bill. Instead of legislation that accelerates the destruction of natural resources, encourages overproduction of unhealthy foods, and exacerbates income inequality and consolidation of our food system, America needs a new, forward-thinking Farm Bill that restores and revitalizes this nation’s farmers and rural communities, our essential natural resources, and our health.

Rising above partisanship, Congress should embrace the positive reforms included in the Food and Farm Act, a bill introduced by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) that would promote a far more sustainable and healthy food system. By incorporating provisions from this bill, Congress has the opportunity to advance organic farming, ecological conservation, and fruit and vegetable production to improve the nation’s health. It’s also a chance to help address a hidden yet major national security concern — America’s rapidly disappearing aquifers and topsoil. Without these essential natural resources, our nation and its farmers will struggle to survive.

We encourage all Americans to contact their congressional representatives and urge them to kill the Republican Farm Bill. Congress needs to hear from millions of us, loud and clear, that we need a new Farm Bill that builds a sustainable and healthy future for all.

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