Last month, after an avalanche of criticism and Republicans’ failure to build consensus, the U.S. House of Representatives’ cruel and destructive GOP Farm Bill was voted down. The House version of the bill contained deep, regressive cuts to nutrition assistance and rolled back key environmental protections, inspiring widespread opposition.
Last week, the Senate Agriculture committee released its Farm Bill. The Senate’s Farm Bill appears to be moving quickly, having passed nearly unanimously through the Senate agriculture committee. While it doesn’t contain some of the worst provisions of the House bill, the Senate bill perpetuates the toxic, inequitable corporate-controlled food system that is harming people and the planet.
America’s eaters and farmers deserve a Farm Bill that addresses our many food-related environmental crises, from climate change to soil erosion and pollinator decline. We simply cannot afford to maintain the current system of industrial monoculture production, which is destroying soils, polluting waterways and spewing greenhouse gases.
Following the collapse of the House version of the Farm Bill and its radical attacks on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), pesticide regulations, endangered species and clean water, the new Senate proposal could easily gain support as a “kinder, gentler” Farm Bill — but that would be a serious mistake.
At a time of ecological crisis, a status quo Farm Bill worsens and leaves us vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, collapsing biodiversity and severely degrading soil, water and air. It props up toxic, pesticide intensive monocultures and polluting factory farms. The Senate’s Farm Bill wastes a critical window of opportunity to help make our food system more resilient, regenerative, healthy and just.
While the Senate Farm Bill includes significant wins for organic agriculture — fending off the worst attacks on the integrity of the organic standards and the National Organic Standards Board that upholds them and increasing funding for a range of important organic programs — the bill falls far short of creating a sustainable and equitable food and farming system.
Protecting organic standards and funding is a critical win, not to be understated. As part of a nationwide resistance effort, Friends of the Earth and over 140 allies generated tens of thousands of emails to Congress and over a thousand constituent calls to the Senate and protect the organic standards that are so critical to the environment and consumer health. It will take continued dedication and alertness to defend the National Organic Standards Board in the Farm Bill process.
Securing wins for organic agriculture creates a blueprint for the future food system we need. But even with these wins, the Senate Farm Bill ultimately maintains the status quo. Funding for organic, local and ecological farming is paltry in comparison to subsidies and policy supports for corporate agriculture and factory farms.
By maintaining these policy supports, the Senate bill will only worsen our many ecological crises driven by industrial agriculture: these supports prop up a system of large-scale monocultures reliant on fossil fuel-based pesticides and fertilizers. This system, backed by subsidies, crop insurance and other incentives favoring corporate industrial agriculture, is a major driver of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollinator die-offs.
Instead of digging a far deeper hole for America’s already-ailing pollinators, soil and waterways, our elected representatives should seize this critical moment to advance measures that would provide an essential booster shot to our food and environmental future, while supporting America’s small and mid-sized farmers and rural communities in the process.
The Food and Farm Act, introduced by Rep. Earl Blumenauer, provides a roadmap for making America’s food system far more sustainable, healthful and equitable. Rather than maintaining grossly unfair and destructive subsidies benefiting corporate agriculture, Rep. Blumenauer’s bill eliminates some “excessive” commodity programs, limits subsidies to upper-income farmers and factory farms, while incentivizing farmers to reduce soil erosion.
This alternative Farm Bill makes strong strides for conservation, requiring subsidy recipients to practice important conservation measures, such as “improving water quality, reducing soil erosion and establishing vegetation buffers between cropland and waterways.” The Blumenauer bill also greatly expands conservation funding and requires the U.S. Department of Agriculture to report on greenhouse gas emissions from factory farms and soil tillage.
Congress can also greatly improve America’s food future and ecosystem health by passing Sen. Merkley’s Pollinator Recovery Act. Saving our pollinators is vital for many of our nutritional mainstays, from apples to almonds, and will help restore rural ecosystems and biodiversity that are critical to our future. The Merkley bill provides important incentives for producers to adopt pollinator-friendly pest and vegetation management practices.
In Senate agriculture committee hearings last week, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand also stood up for pollinators, introducing the need for an amendment calling for greater regulation of neonicotinoids, a class of insecticides that is playing a major role in pollinator decline.
“Normally in the agriculture committee we side with our producers and if they like a certain chemical that they use in production for weed-killing or for bug-killing, we generally side with our producers,” said Gillibrand. “But there are a class of chemicals that are killing bees and you can’t produce fruits and vegetables without bees to pollinate.”
The Farm Bill now moving through the Senate maintains this perilous status quo, failing to regulate toxic pesticides or to adequately fund critical conservation programs. We urge the Senate to reject this legislation that prioritizes corporate profits at the expense of consumers, farmers and the planet.
Instead, with well-developed alternatives such as the measures by Rep. Blumenauer and Sen. Merkley, we have an opportunity to create a Farm Bill that establishes a more level playing field for farmers and that plants vital seeds for a sustainable and just food future.