Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Through the Looking Glass Farm Bill

It is a testament to the Alice in Wonderland nature of the Farm Bill that I find myself agreeing with the Bush administration for the first time. This bill deserves a presidential veto. The promise of reform into which the democratically led congress entered the reworking of the bill has long given way to special interest, back door dealings. Subsidies for racehorse breeders?

There are many things in the way of crafting a truly rational farm bill. The most profound obstacle is the inaccessibility of information on the bill. How is the ordinary voter to judge if the bill works towards developing a logical system of food production that serves all Americans? And what about a system that does not despoil the land, leaving a food crisis legacy to future generations?

Special interests live within the obscurity of federal policy. They count on our inability to devote time, energy, and resources to become informed. The more convoluted the legislation becomes the more riders can be attached. Otherwise, which congressperson would have the face to attach a multi-million dollar subsidy to horse racing to the bill?

On top of the obscurity is the fact that most Americans still picture an archetypical farmer – pitch fork in hand and clad in a denim overall – anytime we mention food production in the United States. The ugly truth is that the farm bill is not for farmers, it is instead corporate welfare at its boldest. Picture a bigwig in a finely cut suit carrying a laptop and knowing nothing about soil conservation the next time you hear about the farm bill.

The biggest truth is that farm state legislators count on the misguided support of most uninformed Americans because in our hearts we know we must protect farmers. After all, the farmer was one of the key builders of our nation. Farming is core to what it means to be American. It is time to see that the nature of food production has changed, to take our Grant Wood glasses off, and understand that the farm bill is mostly about shoving excess calories down American gullets.
Once we swallow this truth we can begin to fight our representatives to get a rational farm policy that does honor the remaining steward-farmers of our country.

One of the most eloquent accounts of how we got into the quagmire of farm subsidies was written by Michael Pollan in The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Let us just say it is covered in corn syrup but is not that sweet.

What could we do to the farm bill in order to make it a vehicle for sustainable agriculture and rural revitalization? Read the recommendations of the Center for Rural Affairs.

Here is a flavor of what we are up against the full text of the proposal and through the library of congress’ Thomas System
This stuff is great if you are suffering from insomnia.

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