The New Farm Bill: What's In It?

The New Farm Bill: What's In It?

Faith Durand
May 23, 2008

So - how about a little Friday afternoon politics? We've been following the passage-veto-override of the new Farm Bill with some interest. The infighting amongst our two major political parties has been interesting to watch, as the Republicans helped override a presidential veto to pass a bill that sets our nation's food and agricultural policy for the next five years.

So, what's really in this bill?

First off, some background. The U.S. farm bill is an omnibus bill that sets the agricultural and food policy of the federal government; it's reworked and passed every several years. The last farm bill expired in September 2007. Since then Congress, lobbyists, activist groups, and the executive branch of the government have been in intense negotiations on the next version. One particularly divisive issue is the question of agricultural subsidy programs. These not only affect our country, but international trade and relationships with other countries.

A very good question right now is, if food and grain prices are at an all-time high, why are federal subsidies even necessary for corn farmers and other food producers.

But these subsidies are so essential to Washington politics it's hard to imagine them being questioned or cut. The lobby groups for many of the largest agricultural commodities (some of which are held extensively by oil companies) are very powerful.

But what exactly is in this bill? We didn't have time to read through and digest all 700-plus pages of the bill, but we found a cheat sheeet. The Associated Press has helpfully broken it down for us:

Domestic nutrition programs make up the largest portion of the estimated $300 billion farm bill. Crop subsidies make up roughly 14 percent, foreign food aid less than 1 percent.

• Food stamps and other domestic nutrition programs such as emergency food assistance: just over 66 percent, about $200 billion.
• Subsidies for rice, cotton, corn, soybeans, wheat and other crops: 14 percent, around $43 billion.
• Conservation programs to set aside or protect environmentally sensitive farmland: 9 percent, about $27 billion.
• Crop insurance to help farmers protect against losses: 8 percent, about $23 billion.
• Foreign food aid would make up less than 1 percent of the bill, costing less than $200 million. The bulk of international food assistance is in annual appropriations bills.

-- Original story

The White House objected to what they felt was excessive spending and vetoed. Yesterday Congress overrode the veto to pass the bill.

It feels very, very difficult to weed through all the competing opinions and points of view on the Farm Bill, especially when it's so huge and unwieldy. Some activists feel that the subsidies are way out of hand and in direct conflict with the health of our country. (Subsidies on high-fructose corn syrup, anyone?) Others applaud the increased money given to food aid. We find it hard to know what to believe or listen to.

All we know that it will continue to be cheaper to buy a Big Mac than a salad, and that's unfortunate. Back to the garden...

• You can read the full bill here: H. R. 2419 - Farm Bill - It's 742 pages long and about 1MB in size. (Can we just say that we're impressed by the font selection in our government's official documents? Not so much the extensive use of italics though.)

(Image: Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine)

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