The farm bill passed the Senate! The farm bill passed the Senate!
We don’t get to say this very often, so forgive our enthusiasm. The bill is a massive piece of legislation passed by Congress every five years (or so), so we get excited about it while we can. An expenditure of about $100 billion a year, it touches nearly every part of our food system. Food stamps? Farm bill. Subsidies to the sugar industry? Farm bill. Insurance for failed crops? Farm bill.
Or, at least, those things all were in the bill. The version that passed the Senate today nearly 2-to-1 is a mixed bag — with a few bright spots. It leaves sugar subsidies in place, while revamping assistance to farmers in a way that benefits Big Ag. Food stamps (now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP) took a hit, but it could have been worse.
Okay, it will probably get worse. When the House considers what to include in the legislation (a process that is still a few weeks away), it’s highly unlikely that the balance of cuts will be the same, and SNAP will probably bear the brunt.
Last week, we presented a list of five amendments worth keeping an eye on. Here’s how they fared.
1. Restoring funding to SNAP. As mentioned above, the final version of the bill passed by the Senate includes funding for the SNAP program. We were keeping an eye on an amendment from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.); that amendment failed. As also mentioned above, funding for the program will almost certainly not survive the House unless some sort of deal is reached. (The Atlantic has a good overview of the political battle over SNAP.)
2 and 3. Limiting subsidies to crop insurance. The final version of the bill limits crop subsidies to the wealthiest farmers, in part thanks to the amendment from Sens. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) which passed 66-33. You can learn far more about that amendment here.
4. Banning ownership of livestock by meatpackers. Unfortunately, this amendment wasn’t part of the final vote and, as such, isn’t part of the final bill. (Here’s more background on the issue.)
5. Growing a new generation of farmers. More good news: The amendment from Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) to provide funding for the next generation of farmers was included in the final bill.
The amendments we were keeping an eye on weren’t the only important measures under consideration. A measure from Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Penn.) that would have eliminated the “Organic Certification Cost Share program” was defeated, which is good news. If passed, it would have been a big blow to organic farmers. A proposal from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) that would have allowed states to implement labeling systems for genetically modified crops was also defeated.
The response from progressives and food advocates has been sober — but not anguished. The Environmental Working Group issued a statement that read, in part:
When conservationists stood our ground and fought, we won against the supposedly invincible crop insurance industry. Too many in the conservation community didn’t fight at all against massive spending cuts to conservation programs that have already been hit by massive reductions in recent years. As a consequence, conservation funding took the largest proportionate hit in this bill. For the “food movement”, the Senate farm bill has been another, rather sobering reminder that until we develop political muscle to match our passion for a sustainable food system, we’ll continue to see billions of dollars misspent on industrial agriculture.
If you’re a fan of anguish, don’t worry. When this thing gets to the House, we’ll very likely have far less good news.