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The Food Movement Must Fight a Secret Farm Bill

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Industrial agriculture’s allies are hijacking the farm bill process.

The farm subsidy lobby and a handful of their powerful Congressional allies are working overtime to skirt normal democratic processes, write a farm bill behind closed doors and slip it into law through the congressional Super Committee. But their plan to write a secret farm bill is finally showing up on the political radar.

The San Francisco Chronicle’s intrepid Carolyn Lochhead put it this way on the paper’s politics blog yesterday:

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.

Lochhead went on to predict that a secret farm bill, written by politicians from subsidy-heavy states, is certain to short-change California’s diverse agriculture yet again. Add to the list of likely losers: conservation interests, local and organic food advocates, defenders of down-and-out Americans who depend on food stamps and just about anyone else who’d like the farm bill to do more than bankroll industrial-scale commodity farming –GMOs, pesticides and all.

Amanda Perterka filed a terrific story in E & E News (subscription required – and well worth it) pegged to the release of a new report from good-food champion Rep. Earl Blumenauer’s (D-Ore.) at a press conference on Capitol Hill on Wednesday (I participated).

Both environmental groups and right-leaning think tanks joined Blumenauer in accusing leaders of the Senate and House Agriculture Committees of working behind closed doors on a farm bill designed to be tucked into an overall deficit reduction package.

Leaders of the two panels are planning to submit their plan to cut up to $23 billion from agriculture funding to the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, the so-called Super Committee, next week. Their recommendations will likely cut billions of dollars from agricultural conservation programs, according to published reports on the discussions.

Blumenauer and the organizations told reporters that submitting such a proposal without input from the full agriculture panels or the rest of Congress amounts to crafting a “secret” farm bill.

Peterka nailed it when she wrote:

…the “four strange-bedfellow backers of Blumenauer’s plan do not always see eye to eye” but “are part of a “broad coalition” that believes “the current system is not delivering as it should,” said Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, a dedicated foe of agriculture subsidies.

As for the writing of the 2012 farm bill, “we want an open process, we want a public process, we want a Democratic process,” Cook said.

What do you want?

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