A few weeks ago, Stonyfield asked folks to speak out in favor of several amendments to the Farm Bill in a post on the Buzz Blog. This bill, rewritten every five years by Congress, is a massive piece of legislation. In fact, it allocates how Congress will spend nearly one trillion dollars over the next ten years. As such, it determines in large part what farmers grow – and therefore, what you eat . Which is why you should care a lot about what’s in it.
As we discussed in our recent Buzz Blog post, the bill currently provides subsidies to farmers who grow commodity crops like corn, soybeans, wheat, and cotton, but not for farmers who grow fruits and vegetables. According to the Environmental Working Group, the majority of these payments go to the largest farms, leaving the 80% of the small family farms growing commodity crops across the country with less than 10% of the pie.
The bill also provides the funding for important programs like SNAP (food stamps) and other programs to help hungry families, but health and nutrition advocates say the version passed by the Senate doesn’t do enough to help these families access fresh and local fruits and veggies. And although the bill contains some important provisions in support of organic farming, local food production, and beginning farmers and ranchers, it leaves others out. Very little of the funding in the farm bill dedicated to supporting farmers actually benefits the organic family farmers like the ones that supply our milk, fruit, and other ingredients.
In short, there is still a lot of room for improvement in this trillion dollar package. We’ll take a look at what can be done to improve this bill in a minute, but first let’s look at where things stand.
The Senate passed their version of the farm bill on June 21, and now it’s the House’s turn to put together their own bill. As the bill was making its way through the Senate, Stonyfield joined with organizations like the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, Environmental Working Group, the Organic Trade Association, and others to advocate for improvements to the bill that would benefit organic and local agriculture, and beginning farmers. (You can see our buzz blog post asking people to take action here.) We had some exciting victories:
- Senator’s Merkley’s amendment to level the playing field and make organic crop insurance work fairly for organic farmers was adopted
- Two amendments were adopted that will limit subsidies that the very largest farms receive, so we’re not subsidizing millionaires
- Senator Brown’s amendment provides critical funding to support beginning farmers and increase rural job creation
These victories don’t just happen because lawmakers realize it’s the right thing to do – they happen because thousands of people like you and me call and email their offices to urge them to do the right thing. That’s why it’s important that we continue to follow this process and be ready to raise our voices to make sure that these hard-fought victories end up in the final bill.
Of course, there were also some disappointments in this bill. Senator Sanders amendment to allow states to require labeling of GE foods was rejected, Senator Gillibrand’s amendment to increase funds for healthy fruits and veggies in the food stamp program failed, and funding for conservation programs was cut by nearly $4 billion. Clearly, change happens slowly in Washington and there is always more work to do.
Now it’s the House’s turn to debate the farm bill. While we’d like to see the House accept the levels set by the Senate for spending on organic programs, organic agricultural research, and beginning farmer programs, and adopt things like the crop insurance fix for organic farmers, it remains to be seen whether this will happen.
We’ll continue to work with our partners to advocate for organic farmers getting their fair shake in the farm bill this year. Stay tuned for action alerts soon when the House gets ready to vote!