It’s 2013 but the Farm Bill is still stuck in 1983.

Welcome to 2013!  A few months back, Michael Pollan wrote a piece in the New York Times discussing whether there was a real movement to improve food in the U.S., or if it was just a trend or fad.  This week, I am sad to announce that the answer is now clear:  the status quo in agriculture and food policy has not changed one bit.Two things happened this week.  First, as part of the “fiscal cliff” compromise reached by Congress and the President, the federal Farm Bill was hastily extended for another nine months — ostensibly to prevent milk prices from rising dramatically.The Farm Bill is an absurdly complicated piece of legislation that sets the rules for everything from commodity subsidies to food stamps as well as conservation programs for farmland.  There is widespread acknowledgement that many of its programs are outdated and should be re-examined and updated for the 21st century.  Instead, the existing bill was simply re-authorized — no doubt a favor to legislators from the midwestern commodity belt in exchange for yes votes on the fiscal cliff package.

Except for a few small things.  Organic agriculture receives a tiny fraction of farm bill funding, for research and assistance with the costs of organic certification.  Guess what programs were somehow omitted from the renewed Farm Bill.  Yep. Over the holidays, while no one was paying attention, Congress and President Obama threw organic agriculture under the bus.

Meanwhile, over at the Food and Drug Adminstration, they were working on the rules for implementing the “Food Safety Modernization Act” recently passed by Congress.  When the rules were released this week — all 500 pages of them — the agency also noted what the cost would be to medium-sized growers like Terra Firma:  $13,000 annually, and predicted that many farmers would not be able to afford the cost of compliance.

To connect the dots very clearly here:  big commodity farmers who grow corn and soybeans will continue to receive subsidies, while small farms that grow fresh organic produce are having higher costs pushed on them while the only support they have ever gotten from the government is eliminated.  Public health is ostensibly the government’s goal, so why are we encouraging farmers to grow crops that make people unhealthy and discouraging them from growing ones that make people healthier?  Why is the FDA more worried about the 3,000 people who die annually from food poisoning then they are about the hundreds of thousands that are killed by diet-related diseases?

I often hear people say that fruits and vegetables are so expensive, especially organic ones.   Food safety laws that push higher costs onto farmers will end up raising the cost of fresh produce even more. Here’s a question for your elected officials:  Why are our tax dollars still being used to subsidize junk food instead of helping to make healthy and safe fresh produce more affordable?



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