If You Care About Hunger, Then Care About the Farm Bill

If you care about hunger, you should care about the US Farm Bill, an expansive law governing food and agricultural issues. The law is renewed approximately every five years; at the end of April, the Senate Agricultural Committee passed a version that it will send to the entire Senate soon.

The Farm Bill affects food issues in the US, but it also has global ramifications. Among other things, the Farm Bill determines subsidies for American farmers, governs the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in the US, subsidizes crop insurance, and funds conservation programs. The Farm Bill is generally a mashup of a little good and a lot of bad, and probable changes in the new bill are no different:  it’s good that it provides more resources to food banks, but bad that it cuts funds from SNAP. It’s good that it provides some support to organic farm programs. But the bad seems to far outweigh the good, because in essence the law simply supports the largest industrial American farms:  propping up unsustainable and exploitative systems that are destructive for local communities, small farmers, and the environment. Moreover, provisions in the law continue to grossly subsidize rich farmers, enabling them to compete unfairly with struggling small-scale farmers in developing countries. What increases profits in one country can destroy livelihoods in another.

Given the close relations between politicians and Big Ag, there’s perhaps not much room for hope. But the first step for effecting change – now or in the future – is educating. For more information, Food and Water Watch has a great explanation of the Senate Agriculture Committee’s version of the Bill, while Farm Bill Primer offers a nice collection of information on the bill. And for some straight talk on how the bad far outweighs the good, check out the Environmental Working Group’s blogpost on the “subsidy buffet for agribiz.” 

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