One of the most memorable ads from the last Super Bowl featured the poem by radio broadcaster Paul Harvey called "So God Made a Farmer." It was a fitting tribute heard during the pinnacle of a uniquely American sport, as farming is such a central part of the American identity.
Farming and our relationship with the land represented the expansion of the nation and helped define America's sense of freedom. However, with the encroachment of modern mega-farms and agriculture's patented technology -- with its costly chemical war with our pocketbooks, nature and our health -- these are a set of values and practices that are disappearing fast.
Fifty three percent of the world's seeds, and thereby our food supply, are controlled by just three companies. And though 'Big Ag' would have us believe otherwise, through beautiful marketing with soft earthy colors, lofty promises and happy pictures, the vast majority of food production has changed significantly. Transitioning away from what we commonly envision as that iconic rural American farm family to what is more akin to a factory.
The Farm Bill, which should more accurately be called the Food and Farm Bill, is currently making its way through the House and the Senate. There are parts of the bill that remain vital and work towards preserving many of the principles central to American health and freedom.
While there is a little good news in the farm bill -- both versions of the bill do provide small amounts for good programs like the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program, Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative, and pilot Farm to Schools projects -- it is unfortunately a bill full of mainly bad news.
The new era of farming has come under control of massive agribusinesses and much of the nearly trillion-dollar Farm Bill exists as giveaways to big business. For instance, 75 percent of crop subsidy payments go to a scant 10 percent of farmers, with only 10 percent also receiving just over half of total crop insurance subsidies, some of whom received $1 million each in insurance subsidies.
The Farm Bill provides for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which helps feed 47 million people. It is awful that the Senate version of the bill would cut $4.7 billion from the program and even more devastating that the House version would cut $20 billion, which could mean that millions of people will go hungry.
The House version of the bill eliminates funding for the National Organic Certification Cost-Share Program and fails to adequately reform the crop insurance system.
In a blatant attack on states' rights, an amendment offered by Congressman Steve King of Iowa and adopted into the House bill, undermines the longstanding Constitutional rights of states to protect the health, safety and welfare of their citizens and local businesses. The amendment, passed in the House Agriculture Committee by voice vote, would nullify more than 150 state laws related to everything from child labor and migrant workers to pesticide use, animal welfare and food safety, if it makes in into the final bill at conference.
Don't want a children's toy containing lead paint manufactured with child labor in your state? Congressman King and the House Agriculture Committee say "tough." Want the workers in your state to have a better chance? Farmed animals to live in better conditions? Your state won't have the right to choose. The Feds are encroaching.
While meddling in unnecessary and inappropriate ways, the Farm Bill ignores one of the biggest problems facing farms and food production: the decline of pollinators like bees. It is estimated that one in three bites of the food we eat was produced with the help of pollinators like honey bees, who contribute over $15 billion to the U.S. agricultural economy per year.
Pollinator losses, or colony collapse disorder (CCD) as it is known, represent a serious threat to the agricultural industry and our nation's food security.
While there has been some movement to protect habitats or increase research funding, honey bees are dying at alarming rates -- a situation that has been linked by scientists to the indiscriminate use of a group of toxic pesticides called neonicotinoids. On average, U.S. beekeepers lost 45.1 percent of the colonies in their operation during the winter of 2012-2013. Congress cannot ignore the linkage between pesticides and bee declines and must do more to address this threat as the Farm Bill is debated on the Senate floor beginning next week.
This one-trillion dollar bill has many elements. Whatever it is that you care about in this bill, join the food movement -- get involved, contact your representative's office and stand for what you want seen in the bill, and call out that which should be removed. There's still a little time!