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Stabenow’s Senate version of the Farm Bill continues to promote an unjust food system that benefits big banks and the agribusiness sector

July 12, 2018

On June 22nd, we reported that the US House of Representatives had passed a version of the 2018 Farm Bill, which punished those who are food insecure, by requiring them to work a certain amount of hours per month in order to receive food assistance. 

Recently, the Senate passed a similar version of the Farm Bill, that not only continues to subsidize agribusiness, the Senate version also requires those on food assistance to work.

Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow, the Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, & Forestry, led the charge to pass a bi-partisan bill. The announcement on Senator Stabenow’s website suggests that the 2018 Farm Bill is great for Michigan farmers and great for Michigan’s economy. 

The reality is that the bill is great for agribusiness in Michigan. Those who stood with Stabenow in Michigan at a recent press conference, are entities within the agribusiness sector, such as the individual large-scale farms, the Michigan Vegetable Council and the Michigan Rural Water Association. At the federal level, you can see in the chart on the right, the agribusiness corporations that have contributed the most in the past year to lobbying Congress to pass the Farm Bill.

Most of these businesses and farm associations and their members are recipients of massive taxpayer subsidies and most of them grow mono-crops on a large scale. Small farmers and farmers that practice sustainability benefit at all from the US Farm Bill.

The Senate version of the Farm Bill may not be as harsh on food assistance recipients, but it will still require people to find jobs, go to job training and participate in a monitoring program in order the continue receiving food assistance.

According to Food and Water Watch, the Senate Bill is not as punitive as the House version, but it still it still perpetuates an unjust and unsustainable food system. They state in a recent post that there are two areas that really need improvement:

• Commodity Crops – The Senate bill maintains the approach of the last farm bill when it comes to commodity crops like corn, soy and wheat by emphasizing subsidized crop insurance as the primary farm safety net. Missing is any discussion of the real reforms we need, including restoring grain reserve programs that could be used to provide stability for farmers and rein in overproduction of these commodity crops that end up as cheap feed for factory farms.

• Factory Farms – For several Farm Bill cycles, large-scale factory farm operations have been eligible to receive hundreds of thousands of dollars from a program called the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to subsidize equipment or facilities to manage the massive amounts of manure they generate. By allowing factory farms to use taxpayer dollars to subsidize their manure management, EQIP funds have helped corporate agribusiness consolidate the livestock industry. The Senate bill would continue to allow this practice, as well as increase the size of loans to farms that the USDA will guarantee. These guaranteed loans serve as another subsidy to factory farms, which can convince banks to lend them money to expand or build new facilities, with taxpayers taking all the risk.

However, the group Food First, says that the Farm Bill not only needs improvement, it does nothing to promote farm justice. In a recent statement, Food First wrote: 

Every 4-5 years, the U.S. Farm Bill bounces back and forth between the House and Senate chambers of the U.S. legislature as progressive NGOs engage in lobbying efforts to support social programs like the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), Beginning Farmer and Rancher Program, the Conservation title, and now, the Farm Stress program.

None of these issues—important as they are to millions of people—address the crisis of U.S. agriculture. None break the agrifood monopolies’ stranglehold on our farmers, farmworkers, food workers, and consumers, or the negative impact the Farm Bill has on the global food system. None call for parity, the foundation for an equitable farm and food policy. What is missing, according to the authors of this Backgrounder, is farm justice.

The document that Food First is referring to, can be found at this link

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