This webpage is part of a campaign to improve the U.S. Farm Bill before it is passed in 2023. One of the reasons the Farm Bill gets little attention is that most people don’t know about it. So we’re going to tell them. We know we can’t fix it completely right now — but if enough people speak up, we can improve it.
Many people have an idealized view of farm life as rural places where farmers work hard to produce the cleanest, healthiest food. Unfortunately, many farms more closely resemble factories where farm workers and animals live under terrible conditions and produce food that is plentiful and cheap, but provides less nutrition and more dangerous additives than necessary; these factory farms also harm the environment.
Why is it so important to fix the Farm Bill?
Agriculture has a profound effect on life in this country.
- On the environment: Agriculture is one of the main causes of climate change. About 30% of greenhouse gas that is generated in the U.S. originates on factory farms, especially CAFOS. Runoff from farms pollutes our water; pesticides pollute our air. Even raising vegetables can damage the soil. And growing crops uses an enormous percentage of the land in this country. About 52 percent of the 2012 U.S. land base (including Alaska and Hawaii) is used for agricultural purposes, including monocropping, grazing (on pasture, range, and in forests), and farmsteads/farm roads.
- On our health: The American diet—which is controlled by the Farm Bill in many ways–is responsible for the high level of chronic disease in this country. Too much meat, sugar, and fat lead to heart disease, diabetes, and strokes, which are among the highest causes of mortality.
- On our society: Agri-business exacerbates inequality: marginalized groups—minorities, beginning farmers, veteran farmers, as well as consumers from the same groups—receive less benefit from the industry than wealthy people.
The Farm Bill, rather than addressing these issues and finding solutions, makes them worse:
- The Bill supports the biggest farms, most of which farm in ways that are most harmful to the environment and few of which are owned by marginalized groups.
- The Bill subsidizes commodity crops, like soy and corn, which are used to grow meat and highly-processed foods—these subsidies lower the price of products that are key causes of chronic diseases.
- Cheap commodity crops make CAFOs and monocropping lucrative, both cause enormous harm to people and the environment.
The Farm bill is not all bad. About 75% of the funds go to nutrition assistance programs that reduce poverty and hunger. There are many valuable programs already included in the Farm Bill—programs that help young farmers and minority farmers, programs that fund construction of barriers to slow runoff, programs that provide information on nutrition. But funds for these programs are often diverted to agribusiness. That is because agribusiness has one of the most powerful lobbies in the country—agribusiness companies pay about $1.6 billion for the services of these lobbyists. Part of fixing the Farm Bill involves reducing lobbyist influence.
What is our plan for fixing the Farm Bill?
There are many organizations working on the issue at the highest levels. Our plan is simpler: we’re going to ask people to educate themselves, talk to everyone they know, engage with people wherever they can find them (farmers’ markets, CSAs, street festivals, PTA meetings, etc), and distribute simple brochures that they can print themselves. And we’re asking them to recruit more volunteers—we’re building our own little pyramid that we hope to enlist thousands of people to spread the message. Yes, we realize that everyone is busy and that there are many other issues that need to be addressed. But if we alert enough people of the ridiculousness of using taxpayer money to destroy our planet, our health, and our society–it just might work.
“ You are not obligated to complete the task, but neither are you free to desist from it ”
Ethics of Fathers, 2:21
What is the Farm Bill?
In the 1930s, as the U.S. suffered through the Great Depression and The Dust Bowl, Congress passed President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal legislation, which included the Farm Bill. The Farm Bill had three goals:
- keep food prices fair for farmers and consumers
- ensure an adequate food supply
- protect and sustain the country’s natural resources
The Farm Bill is called an omnibus bill. It includes a myriad of overlapping laws that cover many elements of agriculture, and these laws are separated into 12 categories, called Titles, which cover nutrition for low-income people, conservation projects, crop insurance, and commodity subsidies. You can find a full list of them here.
In many ways, the Farm Bill guides what is grown in this country and how it is grown. Therefore, it has a huge impact on the environment and what we eat.
“The farm bill connects the food on our plates, the farmers and ranchers who produce that food, and the natural resources – our soil, air, and water – that make growing food possible.”
National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition
The Farm Bill is enacted every five years; the last one was enacted into law in December 2018 and expires in 2023. The next Farm Bill must be passed before the last one expires. The bill is written and negotiated by the Senate and House Committees on Agriculture; see here for lists of members:
It is written and negotiated by the two bipartisan committees and then debated and passed by the full Congress.
How much does the Farm Bill cost?
The projected cost of the 2018 Farm Bill was $428 billion over five years. Here’s how it was divided:
Other Agricultural Legislation
The Farm Bill is not the only legislation that affects agriculture. Many issues, such as farm and food worker rights and protections, public land grazing rights, FDA food safety, clean water, and school meals (read more about the other legislation here) are not included in the Farm Bill. And other legislation is under review:
- EQIP (Environmental Quality Incentives Program) a voluntary conservation program that offers farmers and ranchers financial cost-share and technical assistance to implement conservation practices on working agricultural land)
- The Farm System Reform Act, which would transition away from factory farms:
- The Agricultural Resilience Act, which bills itself as a climate-friendly farm bill
- The Climate Stewardship Act, which better incentivizes conservation practices is currently being considered
In addition, state agriculture departments include budgets, regulation, and guidance. But because of the huge amount of funding it appropriates, the Farm Bill is the most influential existing legislation.