Start the Countdown: The Senate's About to Tackle 73 Amendments to the Farm Bill

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A series of important votes will soon determine which stakeholders benefit the most from this year's agriculture bill.

Food Politics

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This is the week to pay close attention to what's happening with the farm bill. The senate has agreed to begin voting this afternoon on 73 amendments.*

As the Washington Post puts it, this week's "vote-o-rama" might actually end up passing a five-year bill that would

cost $969 billion over the next decade and includes $23.6 billion in proposed cuts, making it a slimmed-down version of legislation that historically served as one of the main opportunities for members of Congress to deliver pork-barrel spending to their constituents.

Roll Call explains the politics behind the Senate's plan.

Although final Senate approval is far from guaranteed, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced a 73-amendment agreement just before 8:30 p.m., hours after Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and ranking member Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) could be seen and heard wrangling with rank-and-file Members in the chamber.

The farm bill is the perfect embodiment of stakeholder politics in action. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), which has been tracking farm bill events closely, says that

On Thursday, NSAC joined over 90 organizations in a letter supporting passage of the amendment to re-link soil and wetland conservation requirements to crop insurnace premium subsidies, the largest farm subsidy in the new farm bill. Earlier, at the beginning of the week, NSAC also joined over 500 organizations on a letter opposing any farm bill that increased the size of the cuts to farm conservation programs beyond the ten percent cut in the pending Senate bill. A sign-on letter in support of beginning, minority, and veteran farmer amendments will be delivered Monday.

The San Francisco Chronicle points out that California produce growers like the farm bill pretty much as it is. In 2008, it provided them with some support. They are opposed to caps on crop insurance subsidies favored by food movement advocates.

The article quotes Kari Hamerschlag, an analyst with the Environmental Working Group:

just 600 farmers in California, or two percent, receive 33 percent of the crop insurance subsidies going to the state, an average of $98,000 apiece. Capping the subsidies at $40,000 per farm would save $33 million in California alone...That would be enough...to provide the fresh fruit and vegetable snack program for poor children to 1,178 schools, or quadruple the money for local and regional food programs in the state, or increase a conservation incentive program by half.

As a nation we have to decide, is it more import to subsidize high profits for crop insurance companies, or healthy food for kids?

It looks like we will get the answer to this question from the Senate this week. Stay tuned.

* Addition: If you need a scorecard, I just got sent the farm bill primer listing the amendments.

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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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