The new year started with promises of long overdue Congressional action on the Farm Bill. Some sticking points are still being negotiated, but it now looks likely that the House and Senate versions of the bill will be reconciled in the coming weeks.
The process for passing a full, five-year Farm Bill — the law that sets our national priorities for food and farming — has been dragging on for quite some time. If the House and Senate conferees can reach agreement in the next week or two, action will quickly shift to the floor of Congress for an "up or down" vote on a final bill. In these last stages of negotiation, we continue to push hard for a law that supports healthy food and farm economies.
The result of final conference negotiations remains to be seen, and a few pieces of the bill have slowed the process. For one, a much-needed proposal to close loopholes that allow "mega farms to collect unlimited federal subsidies" is a source of strife.
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) reports that closing these subsidy loopholes is widely supported on both sides of the aisle. Still, a vocal minority in the conference committee remains staunchly in favor of unlimited farm subsidies to industrial farms. But as PAN scientist Margaret Reeves wrote last October, there is strong merit in closing these loopholes:
We need to end up with a five-year bill that provides urgently needed, fiscally responsible policy reforms. No more run-away subsidies to the largest, wealthiest and often absentee producers of the so-called commodity crops (corn, soy bean, cotton and wheat).
As for innovative sustainable agriculture programs — including programs that support organic farming and on-farm practices to safeguard water and soil — the outlook is "cautiously optimistic," but many issues are far from settled. And last we heard, there was still a sneak amendment in play that would undermine protection of waterways from pesticide contamination.
Dairy policy remains a major point of contention that continues to stall progress, while rumor has it that a compromise is now on the table for the controversial cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which includes food stamp programs, school lunch and WIC (women, infants and children) benefits.
While conferees debate details of the final Farm Bill, we continue to press Congress to pass legislation that supports farmers working to protect vital resources — soil, water, pollinators — and that provides widespread access to good quality food.
Join us! Call on your legislators to reform outdated farm subsidies, protect natural resources and invest in a healthier future for us all.
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