After almost three years of deliberation and decision making, Congress has finally passed a comprehensive five year Farm bill. The bill, which is set to cost almost a trillion dollars, was passed by the house last week. Today, the senate approved the bill, so it now moves to President Obama’s desk for final authorization. He is expected to sign it.
Although the bill is called a farm bill, it is more about food than farming. It will provide food for those in need as well as aid farmers in future growing endeavors. A large portion of the almost 100 billion dollar a year cost will go to the food stamp program, which assists one out of every seven Americans. The five year bill is designed to tell farmers what to grow and how to inform consumers about the products they are eating.
The Farm bill has been held up for several months due to a dispute over spending. The Republicans in the house initially wanted to trim the cost of the bill by almost five percent. However, this final legislation will only cut it by one percent, thanks to supporters in the democrat controlled senate. Despite the sides not agreeing on the specific terms, it is clear most still favor the bill as a whole. The senate, with a strong bipartisan showing, passed the bill with a favorable 68 to 32 vote.
There are several key points within the farm bill congress passed today that Americans need to know. First, information on meat products will now be very detailed. All chicken, pork and beef sold in the US will bare a mandatory mark with the animal’s origin, as well as where it was slaughtered and processed. This part of the bill was fought by Canadian and Mexican meat producers but failed to win a victory in the courts. As a result, meat from these two countries must also possess the required labels.
Initially, the house wanted a full disclosure from all members of congress who would benefit from the bill. This included personal gains as well as family members who would receive benefits and aid. After much deliberation, this clause was dropped because the senate did not include it on their version of the bill. This will allow members of congress and their families to receive benefits without having to fully disclose them. As such, there will be no measures in place to check on exactly where the money from this bill will be going.
In recent months, there has been a groundswell of people who have scrambled to get in on the increase in agricultural profits. Because of this, a large portion of previously unused land has been turned into farming plots. On the other side of the coin, farmers who have been using the same land for generations, are beginning to face environmental issues with their land. Soil erosion is the main cause of farmers losing fertile and highly productive acres. This bill is designed to help with both problems. First, it will force growers who are seeking subsidies to begin following strict conservation guidelines, if they wish to receive help. Second, the bill will cut subsidies to farmers who mainly till on the unused land, which has been recently turned into farming plots. Environmentalists are happy with these bill provisions. However, it is important to note that this bill overall cuts government spending on conservation.
In the past century, farmers have received subsidies that disregarded their crop quality and prices. This bill will end that trend. However, since so many farms rely on these payments, the bill will allow for other types of aid to these farmers. Crop insurance will now be cheaper than it has ever been. It will also start to pay farmers who were previously too small, or whose impact on the agricultural market was too minute to receive benefits. This is a big step toward helping the little guy within the farming community. However, since the risk to individuals will go down, the risk to the government and its budget will increase.
Lastly, this farm bill will define which crops the government seeks to encourage and protect. Mainly, these protections will go to the major row crops, such as corn, wheat and soy. In addition, the bill adds a new crop to the protected list; Sushi rice. The government will now pay out farmers who grow Sushi rice if the price drops to the point they are losing money. For Americans, this means more rice, bread, soy and corn will be grown and available. These crops will become a staple in most American diets.
The farm bill congress has passed today will set a five year plan in motion, aimed at helping out farmers and feeding the country. Though parts of the bill may be considered unhelpful for some, it should increase the quality of food -and life- for American Citizens.
By Chris Chisam