Grassroots Deliver BIG Wins in the Senate -- Every Voice Still Needed in House-Senate Conference Committee

As we go to press, citizens across the country are calling their Senators and feverishly writing letters to the editor. In short, they're making our democracy live and breathe -- and it is a beautiful thing! The Senate is rapidly finishing up its version of the Farm Bill. And we are winning! Against all odds, we have come together as a movement and fundamentally changed the terms of debate in Washington D.C. and the shape and content of the Farm Bill.

From disparate efforts, we have forged a unified voice for farm and food policies that truly serve the people and the land. Over the past three years, in grassroots meetings and national forums, we identified problems and solutions -- then crafted policy initiatives inspired and informed by the people whose lives and livelihoods will be most affected by them. We sought input and support from a wide diversity of interests. We presented these initatives -- that together begin to redress some of the most troubling economic, social and environmental injustices enshrined in current agriculture policy -- to policy makers, local and national groups, and the media. We've cooperated, debated, educated, and advocated!

We have made a difference we can all be proud of. The policies we have collectively won in rural development, conservation, research, nutrition, organic and other titles will have a significant, positive impact on farms and communities throughout the country. Some of the most significant wins include passage of a farm bill in the Senate that:

  • establishes the Conservation Security Act;
  • creates new and improves existing value-added, micro-enterprise, and rural entrepreneurship programs;
  • establishes beginning farmer and rancher programs;
  • improves program delivery to socially disadvantaged farmers and takes steps towards ensuring equitable participation for all farmers;
  • requires mandatory country of origin labeling for all meat, fruits and vegetables, and more;
  • establishes a USDA Undersecretary for Civil Rights;
  • creates a new grasslands protection program;
  • bans packer ownership of livestock, which has big implications for fairness of markets, family farm and ranch income, consumer choice, and environmental quality;
  • prohibits forced mandatory arbitration agreements in contracts, giving farmers a choice in how they want to resolve disputes with big industry;
  • protects producers contracting with industry, by authorizing contract oversight and establishing farmers' right to share contract content with family members and advisors;
  • Establishes real limits on the amount of payments any farmer can receive in a given year and requires that all payments be directly attributed to a flesh and blood person; and
  • Reduces the excessively high payment ceiling approved for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) in the underlying bill, prohibits funding to corporations and other entities that own multiple large-scale CAFOs, and emphasizes the need to fund sustainable livestock practices and systems.

We are not at all surprised that the grassroots have delivered these victories for family farmers and ranchers, agricultural communities, consumers and the environment -- we've seen you deliver important wins before. The difference is these big issues strike at the heart of industrial agribusiness interests. These wins have the potential to change the very structure of our food and agriculture system by beginning to return power back to family farmers, ranchers and consumers, and to change the way industry does business. Industry must be scratching their heads wondering what is going on. To call these victories profound is not an overstatement.

Don't get us wrong. The biggest part of the Farm Bill -- the commodity title -- will be a disaster. Our biggest challenge for the next Farm Bill will be coming up with solutions to the destructive, entrenched structure of agricultural production, processing and marketing in this country. And we still have our work cut out for us in rulemaking, implementation and appropriations.

We will work to ensure equitable and just program outreach and delivery to the most disenfranchised and limited resource farmers, ranchers and communities. We will work with land grant universities to help them prioritize their research based on the needs of the communities they serve. We will build a dialogue among farmers and ranchers and agricultural labor to build a system that is just and fair for everyone. But now we have cracked the corporate wall that has stood between the people and their representatives, and we are coming through. We are going to fight harder than ever for food and farm policy that is truly in the best interests of our families, our communities, and our nation.

But the battle for the 2002 Farm Bill is far from over! The next step is reconciling the House and Senate bills, where we will have to defend the best of both bills. Because of your great work, we now have a lot to lose in the House-Senate conference process.

Every call, fax, letter and visit to legislators counts. If you haven't yet, please add your voice to the grassroots outcry over the shape of the next Farm Bill. Join our action alert network and help make a difference. Email us at [email protected] and check our website for updates:

http://www.sustainableagriculture.net

See other articles from this issue: #099 March - April - 2002