Last Thursday, the US Senate passed a farm and food bill, which is now up for debate in the House. This bill represents a fairly substantial change in the structure of farm subsidies. US subsidy programs, in their current state, tend to favor large producers of "program commodities": corn, soy, wheat, sugar, and rice. The bill entails a good deal of subsidy reform, but, as reported by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, it is still "far from perfect." NSAC Policy Director, Fred Hoefner stated that the "bill would benefit greatly from more agriculture reform, a greater local and regional food focus, and a much greater commitment to economic development and jobs. He went on to say, "We are also disappointed with the $3.7 billion cut to conservation programs on working farms and ranches.” Here are the five main components of this five-year bill:
- The bill spends roughly $500 billion over five years, with about 80% of the money going toward the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps). The bill would cut $23 billion from current spending.
- The bill ends direct payment subsidies made to farmers regardless of whether they plant a crop (direct payment subsidies are those paid to the farmer him/herself, and are not based on the "economic need of the recipients or the financial condition of the farm economy"), a program that currently costs the US $5 billion a year. It also ends three other subsidy programs, including one based on price targets (when crop prices drop below the target price, the government awards the difference in target and actual price to the farmer). The new revenue-based subsidy program that would replace the currently run four would come to the aid of farmers dealing with small losses, before their crop insurance (purchased by individual farmers, to protect them from drops in yield or market prices) came into effect.
- It ends the provision of commodity subsidies to those farmers with adjusted gross incomes of more than $750,000 and makes sure that those who receive subsidies are actively involved in farming operations.
- It consolidates 23 conservation programs into 13 (saving $6 billion over 10 years).
- It saves about $4 billion over 10 years by cuts in the food stamp program (currently provides benefits for 46 million people and costs about $80 billion a year). The cuts include:
- an end to food stamps for lottery winners and college students receiving assistance from their families
- a crack down on benefit trafficking
A notable addition to the bill, an amendment that would give states the authority to require clear labeling of GMOs (genetically modified organisms), was rejected. India recently joined Russia, China, Brazil, and 49 other industrialized nations that currently require GMO labeling. The US and Canada are notable holdouts in the global movement toward this kind of disclosure, despite the fact that popular polls indicate consumers' nearly unanimous desire for access to such knowledge.