Mention the 2012 Farm Bill these days, which I do as often as I can,
and you're likely to be met with uncomfortable silence, head shaking,
eye rolling, or worse. Legislators who are thinking about the next Farm
Bill are already talking about it in terms of untouchable commodity
programs, compromises they're ready to make, and scraps they're
desperate to hold on to. Average Americans who are interested in these
sorts of things-the ones who don't stare blankly-are overwhelmed by the
size of the bill, its complexity, and the various special interests at
play. It's not pretty.
Understanding the Farm Bill: A Citizen's Guide to a Better Food System, a Facebook page launched last month by Mark Muller from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
(IATP) and myself aims to take a first, small step towards demystifying
the Farm Bill. Our goal is to empower concerned citizens across the
United States by communicating what's at stake in the 2012 Farm Bill in
terms that we can all understand. For example:
- All across the country, children are being fed highly processed and
packaged corn, soy, and wheat-laden school lunches, while at the same
time we express increasing concern about childhood obesity. What farm
bill policy drivers can help make our kids healthier?
- We are wasting soil and water resources with inefficient,
environmentally disastrous agricultural systems. What farm bill policy
drivers can protect our environment and our ability to produce enough
food for future generations?
- Recently in New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg asked the US Department of Agriculture to disallow the use of food stamps to purchase soda
for 2 years, allowing the city to gather data on whether or not this
change has a positive impact on health outcomes. What farm bill policy
drivers can help promote healthy food options without taking away
freedom of choice?
We're in a "dire federal budget situation," Mark Muller says, "many
have dim hopes for significant policy change in the forthcoming Farm
Bill. But we simply cannot ignore this opportunity that only comes
around about once every five years. Farm Bill policies are too expensive
and inequitable, and they prop up a food system that quickly needs to
become more sustainable and more healthful."
Many groups are already actively working on tactical Farm
Bill-related issues, of course. The 2008 Farm Bill included funding for
nutrition, rural development, energy, organic farming, forestry, and
more, and groups whose programs are dependent on these funds are eager
to protect them in 2012. This is as it should be, and yet there's a
clear opportunity for those without a specific program at risk to think
about the Farm Bill more holistically. What's the big picture we're
trying to accomplish? And if each group's goal is to represent its
constituents and protect its program, can we ever get there? Our
experience with the 2008 Farm Bill-in which we sacrificed true reform
for incremental change-says no.
Our new Facebook page is just a start. Over the next several months,
Mark and I will be inviting readers to post an article, express an
opinion, tell a friend, or call a congressperson. We'll be looking for
people who are willing to think big about the 2012 Farm Bill, to share
their experience, and to commit to making a difference. We are looking
for tactical ways to empower people who are willing to fight through the
bill's complex bulk and participate. We hope you'll join us.