The Farm Bill Hackathon: Why We Need a More Accessible Document

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The 663-page 2008 farm bill is available to everyone online, but it refers to previous bills and other acts of Congress going back to 1933

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Grist and Food and Tech Connect have excellent reports on last week's Farm Bill Hackathon. This event brought together farm bill experts and designers to try to produce materials that make farm bill issues accessible.

The terrific winning entry: A Clean Farm Bill of Health slideshow illustrating the contradiction between USDA dietary advice policy and that for farm supports.

I could not participate in the Hackathon but having just taught a class on the farm bill I know what I'd like to have: a complete text of the farm bill annotated to include all of the relevant information.

The 663-page 2008 farm bill is readily accessible online, but it is unreadable (by me at least). This is because it refers to previous bills and other acts of Congress, which in turn refer to previous bills and acts, in some cases going back to 1933.

You don't believe me? Try this entirely typical section, chosen at random:

SEC. 12001. DEFINITION OF ORGANIC CROP.

Section 502(b) of the Federal Crop Insurance Act (7 U.S.C.1502(b)) is amended--

(1) by redesignating paragraphs (7) and (8) as paragraphs (8) and (9), respectively; and

(2) by inserting after paragraph (6) the following:

''(7) ORGANIC CROP.--The term 'organic crop' means an agricultural commodity that is organically produced consistent with section 2103 of the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 (7 U.S.C. 6502).''

It would be so nice to have a text that gives the relevant information in one place: What the Federal Crop Insurance Act says, what paragraphs 7 and 8 are all about, and what's in section 2103 of the 1990 Act.

Hackers: Anyone want to take this on?

Image: Carlos Caetano/Shutterstock.

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This post also appears on Food Politics, an Atlantic partner site.

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Marion Nestle is a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University. She is the author of Food Politics, Safe Food, What to Eat, and Pet Food Politics. More

Nestle also holds appointments as Professor of Sociology at NYU and Visiting Professor of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell. She is the author of three prize-winning books: Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health (revised edition, 2007), Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety (2003), and What to Eat (2006). Her most recent book is Feed Your Pet Right: The Authoritative Guide to Feeding Your Dog and Cat. She writes the Food Matters column for The San Francisco Chronicle and blogs almost daily at Food Politics.

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