Farm Bill: Fight to the Finish

As we go to press, members of the House and Senate Farm Bill Conference Committee are about to meet to reconcile the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill. Exactly what will happen is anyone's guess. We could have a farm bill by the end of April, or the farm bill conferees may stall until after this November's elections, or something in between.

What is known is that what the National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture has been fighting for in the farm bill remains on the table, including important provisions for conservation and stewardship incentives, organics, competition and concentration, rural development, equity and justice, community food security, research and more.

We would certainly prefer that farm bill conferees support our positions because they would be good for family farms and ranches, workers, consumers and the environment. What is encouraging is that none of our issues has been taken off the table. In fact, controversial issues like payment limitations and the ban against meatpacker ownership of livestock that could have been immediately shelved to avoid controversy are instead the focus of vigorous debate. Because the policies we've been fighting for came from and are supported by the grassroots, our issues are very much alive.

You can make a BIG difference by calling your Representative and Senators today with the following messages in support of initiatives that are at serious risk of being lost:

  • Support the fully funded, 10-year Conservation Security Program as it was passed in the Senate Farm Bill.
  • Support the reasonable Payment Limitations provisions passed in the Senate Farm Bill.
  • Support the Value-Added, Microenterprise Assistance, and Beginning Farmer and Rancher Programs as they are written in the Senate Farm Bill.
  • Support the prohibition against meatpacker ownership of livestock as passed in the Senate Farm Bill.
  • Do not further increase commodity program spending at the expense of the other Farm Bill titles (e.g., Conservation, Nutrition, Rural Development and Research).

To take action simply call the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and ask for your Representative and Senators by name. When connected with their respective offices, ask to speak with the aide who handles agriculture and leave the above messages.

Visit the National Campaign website at:

http://www.sustainableagriculture.net

to see the complete list of issues we are fighting for in the Farm Bill Conference Committee and for current farm bill news.

The Farm Bill isn't the Finish. Regardless of what happens in the final farm bill, as a national movement we have presented a strong and consistent voice for sustainable agriculture, changed the terms of the debate, and inserted new options into the process that will continue to shape policies well into the future. And regardless of the final farm bill outcome, the National Campaign will work to ensure that the intent of federal sustainable agriculture policies is fully realized. We are already preparing to engage the full resources of our network in rulemaking, appropriations, and implementation.

Rules: the potential of the rulemaking process to derail new legislation is best illustrated by our experience with the Organic Rule. As first proposed by the US Department of Agriculture in 1997, the Rule would have allowed genetically modified organisms and use of sewage sludge and irradiation in production and processing of foods certified as organic. In other words, depending on how a rule is written, the original intent of legislation can be realized or completely lost.

Appropriations: Legislators can easily approve a bill and authorize spending on programs, but if advocacy for appropriation of funds is not pursued relentlessly, in subsequent years inadequate funding can squash the bill's intent.

Implementation: Once the rules are written and the money appropriated, the National Campaign and partners will monitor how programs are delivered, how spending is distributed and what results are being achieved.

In short, legislation is only the first step. To shift our nation's food and farm policy toward economic, environmental, and social justice requires ongoing work through all these stages and into the next farm bill. It will also take broader public understanding and support for our ambitious long-term public policy goals.

The National Campaign would like to work with food cooperatives to expand food democracy -- from grocery aisles to town halls and the chambers of Congress. If you have ideas for how we might work together to educate and activate your members, please call our communications coordinator, Joe Bevilacqua at 845/744-844 or email him at [email protected].

See other articles from this issue: #100 May - June - 2002