Secret Farm Bill Should Focus on Healthy Food and Jobs

A secret farm bill will leave out healthy food and hurt California.

Nearly 70 environmental, public health, nutrition, food and farm groups – including EWG – are calling on California’s congressional delegation to take a stand in the current debate over food and agriculture policy.  In a letter sent on National Food Day (Oct. 24), the broad coalition urged California’s members of Congress to fight for healthy and sustainable food and farming policies.

The letter comes as big ag interests are working to short-circuit the 2012 farm bill process by pushing a secret farm bill through the deficit-reduction Super Committee.

The letter includes a petition signed by more than 14,000 Californians asking their 55 members of Congress to defend key farm bill programs that are critical to a state that generates more than $36 billion in agriculture revenue. The coalition letter demonstrates a broad consensus in California that top priority for federal agriculture funding should go to local food production, nutrition, research, specialty crops, organic agriculture and proven conservation programs. It also underscores the need to invest in local food infrastructure and to expand access to local and fresh fruits and vegetables in food assistance and school lunch programs.

As the nation’s largest grower of fruits, vegetables and nuts – as well as the home to the biggest organic sector – California stands to gain from policies that put more emphasis on production, promotion and consumption of healthy and sustainably grown foods. These kinds of proposals are included in a new Local Food Farm and Jobs bill being introduced by Rep. Pingree (D-Maine) and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio).

Supporters of the coalition warn that their healthy food reform ideas may be thwarted by a closed-door process being pushed by industrial agriculture lobbyists and their patrons in Congress. The San Francisco Chronicle’s Carolyn Lochhead elaborated in a front page article Sunday (Oct. 30):

Leaders of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees are attempting a breathtaking end-run around the democratic process. They are hatching their own farm bill in private and plan by Nov. 1 take it to the new deficit Super Committee to be enacted whole, without votes in their own committees or in Congress.

EWG’s Ken Cook issued a call to food policy reformers to stand up and fight the agribusiness lobbyists’ to hijack the farm bill debate with a backroom process. Long-time farm bill reformer Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.) is circulating a letter to his colleagues objecting to this profoundly undemocratic process:

If the Joint Select Committee were to approve such a proposal, the Congress would have no opportunity to consider any amendments to whatever terms are agreed to by the Chairs and Ranking Members of the Agriculture Committees. The Congress would never even have an opportunity to have a separate up-or-down vote on the Farm Bill. Numerous media reports quote Senators and House Members saying that is precisely the reason the Agriculture Committees are pursuing this route.

If the California delegation wants a voice, their first job is to object strongly to this undemocratic scheme to craft the $300 billion farm bill entirely out of public view.

Unless the California delegation stands strong for the interests of their state’s producers and eaters, it is likely that the closed-door process will yield much of the same: a grossly inequitable system that puts tax dollars in the hands of largest and wealthiest growers of commodity crops such corn and rice, while shortchanging healthy food, small farmers and the environment.

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