Right now, Congress is debating a giant bill that will set the rules for America's food system for years to come. Help us make sure it isn't terrible.
The Farm Bill is an enormous and very important piece of legislation that determines what farmers grow and, as a consequence, what Americans eat. You might not know it from listening to the news, but the bill is being debated in Congress right now.
This week, Senators rushed to file amendments to the 1,000-page draft legislation (officially the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012). More than 200 amendments have been filed as add-ons to the draft bill so far. Many have nothing to do with food, farming, jobs, or conservation and may be weeded out as the process unfolds. The six amendments below, however, are critically important to improving this legislation. They need broad voter support if we are to build a sensible food and farm bill in 2012.
Support Local Food
Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) has introduced an amendment that includes investments in local food infrastructure as well as supports for beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers. Without it, worthy programs like Value-Added Producer Grants, Rural Microentrepeneur Assistance Program, Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers Program risk disappearing altogether. These are already proven programs that help family farms build local processing facilities and support training programs for the next generation of food producers.
Restore Food Stamp Funding
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) introduced an amendment to restore the $4.49 billion proposed cut to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps. This refunding of SNAP would be paid for by cutting to the enormous amount the federal government pays to insurance companies to provide crop insurance to farmers. This amendment will also increase access to fresh fruits and vegetables for school children with an additional $500 million over 10 years for the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program.
Limit Livestock Monopolies
Senators Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Kent Conrad (D-S.D.) have sponsored an amendment that will reduce vertical integration of the livestock market by making it unlawful for a meatpacker to own, feed, or control livestock for more than 14 days prior to slaughter. This anti-monopoly amendment is intended to help independent and family growers compete in highly concentrated markets.
Make Crop Insurance Accessible to Organic Farmers
Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) offered an amendment to remove barriers to make crop insurance more accessible to organic farmers.
Limit Subsidies for Really Rich Farms
Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) have introduced an amendment that reduces the federal crop insurance premium support for farmers with Adjusted Gross Income of more than $750,000 to limit payments to the wealthiest operations.
Require Taxpayer-Supported Farms to Take Care of the Land
Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.) has introduced an amendment that requires conservation compliance for the purchase of federally subsidized crop insurance. This is an attempt to hold subsidy recipients ecologically and financially accountable for their land practices.
Without a public show of support (voters calling their senators) for these key improvements to the Senate Agriculture Committee’s proposed Farm Bill, the country won’t get the food and agriculture policy it needs and deserves.
Let's do this: Senators actually pay some attention to phone calls from constituents. You can get in touch with your Senators by calling the U.S. Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121 or looking up their direct lines here).
Then what? Once you reach a Senator's office, ask to speak to a staffer who works on agricultural issues or to leave a message. Let them know you are in support of amendments to the draft Farm Bill introduced by the specific Senators mentioned above. Support as many as you feel appropriate.