I loathe the farm bill but can’t bring myself to accept the Bush administration’s party line
People keep asking me what I think about the new farm bill — the one that will soon likely become law, since both houses of Congress passed it with majorities that would withstand Bush’s threatened veto.
I hate it; it fails utterly to make the investments we need to rebuild local and regional food systems around cities and in rural areas. But I think I hate the Bush administration’s vision for agriculture even more. The debate between Congress and the Bushies has changed little over the past few months. Back in February, I wrote:
None of the versions of the farm bill floating around congressional back rooms and White House crannies challenge the basic premise of industrial agriculture: that megafarms, using whatever synthetic chemicals and genetically modified seed available, should crank out as much corn, soy, cotton, and meat as they can, environmental and social consequences be damned.
In that post, I analyzed Bush’s harsh criticism of subsidies, which has endeared him to editorial writers and large swaths of the sustainable-ag movement:
Bush supports subsidy cuts for two reasons. One, he’s already spent so much on his ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that he needs to find cuts where he can; and he’s not willing to raise taxes or cut subsidies to oil giants (or ethanol makers, for that matter). In 2002 — remember the surplus? — Bush signed into law the most subsidy-heavy farm bill ever.
Two, he realizes that subsidies are blocking global trade treaties. Agribiz giants and other U.S. corporations have more to gain from ramming open markets in the developed world than they have to lose from subsidy cuts. Moreover, I bet Bush — or at least his main ag man, former Archer Daniels Midland flack Chuck Conner — understands that subsidies don’t drive overproduction, and removing them won’t stop it. Overproduction is driven by the lack of federal supply-management programs, as well as the rise of industrial agriculture in places like Brazil.
To me, that analysis remains intact. Incidentally, I was on a media conference call with above-mentioned Conner Wednesday. I found Archer Daniels Midland’s man at the USDA an obnoxious presence. I saw bitter irony in the way he jawboned about "pro-market reform" in a time of "record- high farm income."
He never mentioned how the Bush administration’s absurd, taxpayer-funded ethanol program — about the most ham-fisted government intervention in the market on behalf of private interests I can think of — actually caused the "record- high farm income" he’s trumpeting. Nor did he mention that his former employer, Archer Daniels Midland, essentially engineered the ethanol program.
Nor did Conner mention how U.S. zeal to pry open foreign markets to U.S. goods has hammered farmers in the global south, contributing mightily to the food crisis now brewing there (such as in Mexico, where people are bracing for yet another tortilla-price hike — a situation that benefits ADM directly).
I tried to squeeze all of this into a couple of blustery, angry questions directed at Conner. I didn’t really succeed, but it was sort of fun to hear Conner dance around my questions with his "pro-market" platitudes.
If the current farm bill falls due to a Bush veto — highly unlikely — I won’t shed a tear (though I will lament the loss of the conservation and community-food gains laid out in this post.)
Now that it seems likely to pass, I admit to savoring the idea that ADM’s man at USDA will be annoyed.