As members of both chambers of Congress head home to their districts, local constituents have an opportunity to weigh in about the Farm Bill, immigration, health care and a whole mess of other things. Despite assurances from Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) that the House will be prepared to appoint conferees early in September when lawmakers return from the August recess, many doubts have been raised about what this period means for the future of the farm bill. (1)
How does the Farm Bill matter to San Diego? What should we prioritize? Food, agriculture, state rights, big government, all or none of the above?
A few days ago, a local San Diegan wrote asking members of the 1in10 Coalition Farm Bill Committee whether we thought splitting the bill possibly could make SNAP more responsive to health and nutrition standards by severing the relationship between food assistance and the industrial food and agriculture complex. While many of us would love to kick subsidized corn syrup and food additives off our tables and out of our food system permanently and have government follow our lead, it’s pretty clear that under current conditions separating food from agriculture policy could be extremely harmful to children, families, small farmers and the environment in both the short and long term.
Quite simply, we cannot improve SNAP’s nutrition standards, if there is no SNAP.
Several good articles have been written recently discussing the government-based reasons that the farm bill should retain its old roots (2), but two reasons come to the forefront for those who care about both SNAP and sustainable agriculture. First, the splitting strategy is not about loosening the corporate stranglehold on nutrition standards but about getting SNAP alone in a dark room. Consider how the split has been leveraged thus far. Representative Marcia Fudge (D-OH), Chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus and a strong proponent of SNAP, told reporters last week that she was willing to consider supporting 20.5 billion dollar cuts to SNAP. Explaining this concession to perplexed constituents, she communicated a foreboding sense that Cantor doesn’t want a farm bill. (3) Perhaps because in the absence of a nutrition title in the farm bill, SNAP could be cut further or stay as-is but lose ties to agricultural programs. And because ag subsidies that would be automatically extended without a bill would lose any binding relationship to nutrition, health or food security.
This leads to the second obvious point about why SNAP needs agriculture and vice versa. SNAP-ED, research, conservation and other programs supporting sustainable agriculture, as well as beginning farmers and ranchers that made it into the 2008 farm bill and the should-have-been 2012 farm bill focused on rebuilding important relations between consumers and farmers and, alternately, between food and agriculture policy . Separating the bill is also, then, about making sure that the linkages these bridge programs provide get erased from public memory and legislative history for good.
Top 3 Reasons MEMBERS & SUPPORTERS OF SAN DIEGO 1in1o SHOULD CARE
From a perspective that includes our own local food movement, residents of San Diego County have encountered and weighed in on complex Farm Bill issues for an adequate period of time to identify our own stakes in a comprehensive farm bill . The following “Top 3” list connects some of the issues identified in 2008 as part of the San Diego 1in10 advocacy platform with corresponding farm bill legislation. These are, I suggest, reasons to care!
1. HEALTHY FOOD ACCESS FOR ALL IS ABOUT EQUITY AND THE ECONOMY
- Since 2008, 1in10 has promoted the acceptance of SNAP benefits (EBT, food stamps, WIC, SSI, CalFresh) at all farmers’ markets. (SNAP-Ed funds link assistance for children, families and seniors to equitable access to markets.)
- When 1in10 began working on permitting for Community Gardens, the initial platform also included Farm to School (or Institution). (SNAP-Ed funded many of these local efforts.)
Many San Diegans feel that federal SNAP and SNAP-Ed funds have helped San Diegans build a more sustainable and equitable local food system, but any way you slice it, objective research show that SNAP cuts will impact both health and the local economy. A new study breaks down the impacts, summarized here:
See the entire ‘Health Impact Project’ Report (4)
While I didn’t find an official breakdown projecting how SNAP cuts would affect San Diego County, where participation is comparatively low among eligible constituencies, it’s safe to say that the local economy and the longterm health of people facing food insecurity would be affected. You may find these facts about economic impacts of SNAP telling:
Additionally, there could be a cascade of unintended consequences of cutting or splitting or failing to reauthorize SNAP. As Ed Cooney, executive director of the Congressional Hunger Center, pointed out, a lack of authorization for SNAP could create an atmosphere in which Congress also begins to think about block-granting other child-nutrition programs, including the Special Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children and school-meals programs. (5)
“It is not very difficult to imagine some enterprising member of Congress then suggesting: Why not combine all child-nutrition programs with SNAP and have these programs compete with each other for the limited funds that would remain available?” Cooney said. “Why not save money by block-granting school lunch? It is important to remember that one major political party had a school-lunch block-grant proposal as part of its 2012 presidential platform, and that the House actually passed legislation block-granting SNAP this year.” (5)
Again, these are the very programs that have enabled San Diegans to start and sustain farmers’ markets in so-called ‘food deserts’ and to develop economic arrangements that support local farmers and improve the quality and nutritional standards in schools and other institutions. Furthermore, and I’m adding this after posting earlier:
The New York Times just reported that the “plan by House leaders to cut $40 billion from the food stamp program — twice the amount of cuts proposed in a House bill that failed in June — threatens to derail efforts by the House and Senate to work together to complete a farm bill before agriculture programs expire on Sept. 30.” Roll Call reports that Rep. Collin C. Peterson, the ranking Democrat on the Agriculture Committee, responded, “There they go again. Apparently, the Republican leadership plans to bring up yet another political messaging bill to nowhere in an effort to try and placate the extreme right wing of their party. Clearly they have no interest in compromise or actual legislating. In response to false claims that SNAP is being exploited by “freeloaders,” Ag. Dept. Secretary Tom Vilsack recently reiterated that “only about 8 percent of SNAP (foodstamp) recipients are on welfare. The rest are children, the elderly, disabled people or the working poor. (*)
2. SUSTAINABLE FOOD SYSTEMS REQUIRE ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION, RESEARCH & CONSERVATION
In 2008, members of 1in10 also identified four priorities signaling the importance of federal policies, programs and research related to conservation of soil and water, the reduction of green house gases, and organics. In 2012, 1in1o vowed to grow our capacity to engage these four far-reaching policy areas:
- Home and Community Composting (State-level)
- Graywater Systems/Reclamation Systems (CA state-level)
- Composting & Green Waste Recycling (CA-state)
- Prioritizing Water for Food Production (State & Federal)
While we have found that most of the policies regulating home and community composting, graywater and recycling are formed at the state level, much-needed research, conservation, implementation and pilot programs to innovate, legitimize and develop these systems with people, food and the environment in mind are funded at the national level. Furthermore, reason number three below indicates that radical Republican reformers of the farm bill have introduced several amendments that seek to redefine states’ capacity to regulate food concerns.
3. LOCAL FOOD SYSTEMS HAVE BIO-REGIONAL, STATE & NATIONAL ISSUES
When the City of San Diego developed its comprehensive urban agriculture code in February 2012, its new provisions — thanks to years of 1in10 advocacy, the support of organizations including IRC and the SD Childhood Obesity Initiative, and the hard work of locals like P Troutman and many others — addressed beekeeping, chickens, goats, and several other retail issues involving urban farms, produce stands and markets. Many potential changes to the 2013 farm bill highlight how these local food system issues are embedded within larger bioregional, economic and political systems and policy debates. Thus, federal farm bill laws involving pollinators, animal husbandry laws, and GE/GMOs may be of especial interest to members of 1in10 who are on the fence regarding whether this is our fight or not:
BEES – Congressional research finds that 1/3 of the food supply of the United States depends on bee pollination. Thus “research on honey bees, native bees, parasites, pathogens, toxins, and other environmental factors affecting bees and pollination of cultivated and wild plants will result in methods of response to colony collapse disorder and other factors causing the decline of pollinators in North America.” (6)
Amendments: In the Senate, the Hastings amendment, Section 11315, incorporates core provisions of Senator Boxer’s research bill, S. 1694, broadening provisions in HR 1709 to include habitat and native pollinator concerns. First introduced in 2007, this amendment authorizes appropriations to the Secretary, through the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service, for research grants to investigate: honey bee immunology, genomics, biology, ecology, and bioinformatics; pollination biology; and the effects of genetically modified crops, insecticides, herbicides, parasites, and fungicides on honey bees and other beneficial insects and pollinators. (7)
LAYING HENS – California law has already banned extreme crate confinement of animals (and forbidden the slaughter of horses for human consumption), so our state concurs with new federal law improving housing standards for laying hens. Even larger producers agree that standardizing better conditions is good for chickens, consumers and farmers (8). Thus, Rep. King’s amendment to the House bill is not intended to regulate standards, but most explicitly about stripping states of their ability to apply their own animal protection, food, and consumer product laws (9).
GMOs & GE LABELING – On April 24, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Congressman Peter DeFazio (D-OR) introduced the Genetically Engineered Right-to-Know Act to require food manufacturers to inform consumers of genetically engineered ingredients in their products (10). On May 23, the Senate voted (27-71) against S.AMDT.965, also known as the Sanders Amendment, effectively killing what would have been recognition at the federal level that individual states already have the right to mandate the proper labeling of foods, beverages, and other edible products that contain GMOs. Each individual state already has the right under the U.S. Constitution to label GMOs if they so choose, regardless of the amendment’s passage, but S.AMDT.965 would have expressly acknowledged this to avoid “confusion.” (11) Furthermore, research is what is needed to counter the argument used quite persuasively this days in government and industry that concerns about GE arise from an “anti-science” lobby! (12)
CONCLUSION: NO LOCAL FARMERS, NO LOCAL FOOD
This past week I heard a farmer from Iowa say that the farm bill died for small farmers in 1996. Of course, he was referring to the outcome of a Republican led-bill, which combined export dependence with deregulation, as well as centralized US agriculture and put it in the hands of large farms and national and multinational companies. No doubt, this left small farmers out of subsidies, crop insurance schemes and resulted in many families losing their farms. (13) While some proponents of local food may read this and be further enticed by Tea Party rhetoric that federal government is too big to change, I have raised some issues here that remind us that our food system is inextricably linked to larger political issues. That if we care about farmers and farming and we want the farm bill to change, we have to stand up for them and speak for ourselves!
Read more about these issues:
*) Now it’s up to 40 billion in cuts to SNAP – http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/08/01/us-usa-congress-foodstamps-idUSBRE97012420130801
1) See Chris Clayton DTN Ag Policy Editor, Farm Bill Now a Pawn in Debt-Ceiling Talks 7/26/13 – http://www.dtnprogressivefarmer.com/dtnag/view/blog/getBlog.do;jsessionid=C356BF6BE4B14046EA16261510CCBF3B.agfreejvm1?blogHandle=policy&blogEntryId=8a82c0bc3e43976e01401b0d3c2c122f
2) See “Farm Bill’s Roots in Old Laws Should Be Sustained” http://www.nationaljournal.com/columns/farm-bill-s-roots-in-old-laws-should-be-sustained-20130721
3) See David Rogers in Politico: The Cantor-Boehner Farm Bill Two-Step 7/25/13 – http://www.politico.com/story/2013/07/farm-bill-2013-eric-cantor-john-boehner-94767_Page2.html
4) See the Health Impact Project White paper here: http://www.healthimpactproject.org/news/project/health-impact-project-releases-white-paper-examining-proposed-changes-to-food-stamps
6) From the Pollinator Protection Act – http://beta.congress.gov/bill/110th-congress/senate-bill/1694
7) See United Egg Producers’ Chad Gregory in the Hill’s Congressional Blog – http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/economy-a-budget/283497-egg-bill-is-good-for-farmers-consumers-and-for-egg-laying-hens
9) Sen Boxer’s press release on GE labeling amendment – http://www.boxer.senate.gov/en/press/releases/042413.cfm
Also see these other media discussions – http://www.cornucopia.org/2013/04/genetically-engineered-food-right-to-know-act-introduced-by-boxerdefazio/
10) See How the Farm Bill Could Undermine the Future of GMO Labeling by individual states by Jonathan Benson, Natural News. 6/21/13 -http://www.naturalnews.com/040888_farm_bill_gmo_labeling_tenth_amendment.html#ixzz2a0mvzWcn
12) See Is the Movement to Label GMO Anti-Science? by Carole Bartolotto, Huffington Post 6/14/13 – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/carole-bartolotto/is-the-movement-to-label-_b_3432355.html
13. See Exported to Death – The failure of agricultural deregulation by Robert E. Scott of the Economic Policy Institute July 1999. http://www.epi.org/publication/briefingpapers_exportdeath/