What's Covered Under the Farm Bill?

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The measure has a long way to go, but here's where lawmakers have found some common ground.

Food Politics

I haven't said anything recently about the current status of the farm bill, mainly because it is too early in the political process to know what is going to happen.

On April 26, the Senate Ag Committee voted to pass the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012.

The bill still has a long way to go. It must be passed by the Senate. The House has to pass an equivalent bill. The two bills must be reconciled. The final bill must be signed by the President.

Otherwise, the current farm bill expires on September 30.

As is always the case with anything having to do with the farm bill, the devil is in the details. The number of programs covered by the bill is vast, and the details even more so.

In efforts to align agricultural policy with health policy, the current proposal makes a little headway. The proposed bill funds:

  • $150 million annually for the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable program
  • $50 million per year for the Defense Department Fresh program, which provides fresh fruits and vegetables to schools and service institutions
  • $70 million annually for the Specialty Crop Block Grant program
  • $25 million annually for the Specialty Crop Research Initiative, to go to $50 million by 2017
  • $60 million in 2013 up to $65 million 2017 for pest and disease management programs
  • $200 million annually for The Market Access Program and $9 million for the Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops program
  • $100 million over 5 years for the Hunger-Free Communities Grant Program for fruit and vegetable SNAP incentives
  • $100 million over 5 years for the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program
  • $406 million annually for Section 32 specialty crop purchases

This looks like a lot—and from the standpoint of incremental change it is a lot—but these numbers are millions, not billions, and in farm bill terms can be considered "mere rounding errors."

The farm bill currently costs taxpayers $85 billion a year, with $72 billion of that going for SNAP (food stamp) benefits.

The rest of the big money goes to the Big Agriculture growers of commodity crops, mainly in the form of crop insurance.

Here too, the proposed bill includes one small but significant measure. For the first time, it provides for crop insurance for diversified farms--those that grow a variety of "specialty" crops (translation: fruits and vegetables).

Even the most critical commentators think the current proposal, despite its evident flaws, represents the best that can be expected given current political realities.

Let's hope the good parts of the proposal survive the rest of the legislative process.

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This post originally appeared 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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