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Farm Bill Comes to the Senate Floor

By Chris Clayton on June 5, 2012
© The Progressive Farmer

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., filed a motion Tuesday afternoon to proceed with the Senate farm bill, formally known as the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012, S. 3240.

Reid said the intention on Wednesday is to proceed with consideration of the bill. A vote to seek that coveted number of 60 senators could come as early as Thursday. If successful, the Senate will then take up full debate of the bill throughout next week.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and committee ranking member, Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., will push Wednesday with another press conference championing provisions in the Senate bill for young and beginning farmers. (I wrote about those issues last week and concern about some cuts the Senate made on extension classes for young and beginning farmers.)

At the same time an extensive group of food luminaries and farm-bill reformers sent a letter Tuesday calling on Congress to "stand up for local and healthy foods" as well as reject cuts to nutrition programs.

The letter of 84 people included famous names such as chef Mario Batali, Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, author Wendell Berry, Gary Fischberg, CEO of Stonyfield Farms, author Dan Imhoff, author and Land Institute President Wes Jackson, director of Food Inc. Robert Kenner, sustainable agriculture advocate Fred Kirschenmann, Marian Nestle, author Michael Pollan and restaurant owner Alice Waters.

The letter stated the Senate bill "falls far short" when it comes to addressing the country's food and agricultural issues. The group stated a national poll last year found 78% of people want more affordable nutritious and healthy foods.

"Although the committee proposal includes important reforms to the commodity title, we are deeply concerned that it would continue to give away subsidies worth tens of billions of taxpayer dollars to the largest commodity crop growers, insurance companies, and agribusinesses even as it drastically underfunds programs to promote the health and food security of all Americans, invest in beginning and disadvantaged farmers, revitalize local food economies and protect natural resources," the letter stated. "We strongly object to any cuts in food assistance during such dire times for so many Americans. These critical shortcomings must be addressed when the bill goes to the Senate floor."

Further, the group of food luminaries, spearheaded by the Environmental Working Group, continued to criticize insurance premiums as a critical hole in the Senate Agriculture Committee's argument regarding reforms in the farm bill. The letter called the safety net "an extravagant entitlement for affluent landowners and insurance companies.

"In addition, the proposed $9 billion-a-year crop insurance program comes with minimal societal obligations. Growers collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars in insurance premium subsidies should at least be required to take simple measures to protect wetlands, grassland and soil. Instead, the unlimited subsidies will encourage growers to plow up fragile areas and intensify fencerow-to-fencerow cultivation of environmentally sensitive land, erasing decades of conservation gains."

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