Food Leaders: The Farm Bill Props Up The Wrong People

An open letter to Congress from Mario Batali, Bill McKibben, and Marion Nestle, among others

An open letter to Congress from Mario Batali, Bill McKibben, and Marion Nestle, among others


This letter was initiated by Kari Hamerschlag, a senior analyst with the Environmental Working Group, and authors Anna Lappé and Dan Imhoff, out of frustration with the lack of meaningful reforms and public input into the legislative process by the Senate Agriculture Committee as it drafted its version of the 2012 Farm Bill. They sought additional ideas for the letter among a dozen other signers, who made key contributions. Many other leaders of the sustainability movement signed on; the full list appears below.

Every member of Congress received a copy of the letter at close of business on June 4th, in anticipation of the Farm Bill's going to the Senate floor for debate later this week. The writers and signers hope that this letter will spur more citizens to learn about this legislation and contact their representatives.

An Open Letter to Members of Congress:

With the 2008 farm bill due to expire in a matter of months, the Senate Agriculture Committee approved legislation in April to steer the next five years of national food and agriculture policy. We applaud the positive steps that the proposed bill takes under Senator Debbie Stabenow's leadership, including incentives for fruit and vegetable purchases, scaling up local production and distribution of healthy foods and bolstering marketing and research support for fruit, nut and vegetable farmers.

Unfortunately, the Senate bill falls far short of the reforms needed to come to grips with the nation's critical food and farming challenges. It is also seriously out of step with the nation's priorities and what the American public expects and wants from our food and farm policy. In a national poll last year, 78 percent said making nutritious and healthy foods more affordable and accessible should be a top priority in the farm bill. Members of the U.S. Council of Mayors and the National League of Cities have both echoed this sentiment in recent statements calling for a healthy food and farm bill.

Although the committee proposal includes important reforms to the commodity title, we are deeply concerned that it would continue to give away subsidies worth tens of billions of taxpayer dollars to the largest commodity crop growers, insurance companies, and agribusinesses even as it drastically underfunds programs to promote the health and food security of all Americans, invest in beginning and disadvantaged farmers, revitalize local food economies and protect natural resources. We strongly object to any cuts in food assistance during such dire times for so many Americans. These critical shortcomings must be addressed when the bill goes to the Senate floor.

As written, the bill would spend billions to guarantee income for the most profitable farm businesses in the country. This would come primarily in the form of unlimited crop insurance premium subsidies to industrial-scale growers who can well afford to pay more of their risk management costs. Crop insurance programs must be reformed to work better for diversified and organic farmers and to ensure comprehensive payment caps or income eligibility requirements. Otherwise, this so called "safety net" becomes an extravagant entitlement for affluent landowners and insurance companies.

In addition, the proposed $9 billion-a-year crop insurance program comes with minimal societal obligations. Growers collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars in insurance premium subsidies should at least be required to take simple measures to protect wetlands, grassland and soil. Instead, the unlimited subsidies will encourage growers to plow up fragile areas and intensify fencerow-to-fencerow cultivation of environmentally sensitive land, erasing decades of conservation gains.

Most of the benefits from these programs would flow to the producers of five big commodity crops (corn, soy, cotton, rice and wheat). Meanwhile, millions of consumers lack access to affordable fruits and vegetables, with the result that the diets of fewer than five percent of adults meet the USDA's daily nutrition guidelines. Partly as a result, one in three young people is expected to develop diabetes and the diet-related health care costs of diabetes, cancer, coronary heart disease and stroke are rising precipitously, reaching an estimated $70 billion a year.

It doesn't have to be this way. The Government Accountability Office has identified modest reforms to crop insurance subsidies that could save as much as $2 billion a year. Half could come from payment limits that affect just four percent of the growers in the program. Congress should use these savings to provide full funding for conservation and nutrition assistance programs and strengthen initiatives that support local and healthy food, organic agriculture and beginning and disadvantaged farmers. These investments could save billions in the long run by protecting valuable water and soil resources, creating jobs and supporting foods necessary for a healthy and balanced diet.

When it is your turn to vote, we urge you to stand up for local and healthy food and nutrition programs and to support equitable and fiscally responsible amendments that will protect and enhance public health and the environment while maintaining a reasonable safety net for the farmers who grow our food. More than ever before, the public demands this. Come November, they will be giving their votes to members of Congress who supported a healthy food and farm bill that puts the interests of taxpayers, citizens and the vast majority of America's farmers first and foremost.

Our nation was built on the principles of protecting our greatest legacy: the land on which we grow our food and feed our families. Stand with us to protect not only farmers, without whom we would all go hungry, but to enact a food and farm bill that fairly and judiciously serves the interests of all Americans.


Leigh Adcock, Executive Director, Women, Food and Agriculture Network

Will Allen, Farmer, Founder, CEO of Growing Power

Dan Barber, Executive Chef and Co-owner Blue Hill and Blue Hill at Stone Barns

Neal D. Barnard, MD, President, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine

Mario Batali, Chef, Author, Entrepreneur

Fedele Bauccio, CEO, Bon Appetit Management Company

Jo Ann Baumgartner, Wild Farm Alliance

Rick Bayless, Chef, Frontera Grill and Topolobampo

David Beckmann, President, Bread for the World

Andy Bellatti, MS, RD, Andy Bellatti Nutrition

Wendell Berry, Lane's Landing Farm

Haven Bourque, Founder, HavenBMedia

Tom Colicchio, Craft Restaurants

Christopher Cook, Author of Diet for a Dead Planet: Big Business and the Coming Food Crisis

Ken Cook, President, Environmental Working Group

Ann Cooper, Chef and Founder, Food Family Farming Foundation

Ronnie Cummins, Organic Consumers Association

Laurie David, Author, Family Dinner

Michael R. Dimock, President, Roots of Change

Christopher Elam, Executive Director, INFORM

Maria Echeveste, Senior fellow, Center for American Progress (for affiliation purposes only)

Andy Fisher, Co-founder and founding Executive Director, Community Food Security Coalition

Chef Kurt Michael Friese, Owner, Devotay Restaurant & Bar and Publisher, Edible Iowa River Valley

Joan Dye Gussow, Grower, Author, Professor Emerita Teachers College, Columbia University

Melinda Hemmelgarn, MS, RD, Food Sleuth Radio

Gary Hirshberg, Co-founder and Chairman, Stonyfield

Mark Hyman, MD, Chairman, The Institute for Functional Medicine

John Ikerd, Professor Emeritus of Agricultural Economics

Dan Imhoff, Author, Food Fight: The Citizen's Guide to the Next Food and Farm Bill

Wes Jackson, President, The Land Institute

Kristi Jacobson, Catalyst Films

Michael Jacobson, Executive Director, Center for Science in the Public Interest

Robert Kenner, Director, "Food Inc."

Navina Khanna, Co-Founder and Field Director, Live Real

Andrew Kimbrell, Executive Director, Center for Food Safety

Fred Kirschenmann, Author, Cultivating an Ecological Conscience: Essays From a Farmer Philosopher

Melissa Kogut, Executive Director, Chefs Collaborative

Anna Lappe, Author, Diet for a Hot Planet

Robert S. Lawrence, MD, Center for a Livable Future, Professor, Johns Hopkins University

Kelle Louaillier, Executive Director, Corporate Accountability International

Bill McKibben, Author, Deep Economy

Liz McMullan, Executive Director, Jamie Oliver Food Foundation

Craig McNamara, President Sierra Orchards and Center for Land-Based Learning

Carolyn Mugar, Founder and Director of Farm Aid

Frances Moore Lappe, Cofounder, Small Planet Institute

Dave Murphy and Lisa Stokke, Food Democracy Now!

Rev. J. Herbert Nelson, II, Director for Public Witness, Presbyterian Church

Marion Nestle, Professor, NYU and Author, Food Politics

Y. Armando Nieto, Executive Director, California Food and Justice Coalition

Nicolette Hahn Niman, Rancher, Author, Attorney

Denise O'Brien, Co-founder, Women, Food and Agriculture Network; organic farmer

Robyn O'Brien, Executive Director, AllergyKids Foundation

Michael Pollan, Professor, UC Berkeley School of Journalism

LaDonna Redmond, Food Justice Advocate and Food and Community Fellow

John Robbins, Author, Diet For A New America, The Food Revolution, and No Happy Cows

Ocean Robbins, Host, Food Revolution Network

Ricardo Salvador, Union of Concerned Scientists

Eric Schlosser, Author, Fast Food Nation

Lori Silverbush, Silverbush Productions

Matthew Scully, Author, Dominion

George L. Siemon, CEO, Organic Valley

Michele Simon, President, Eat Drink Politics

Jim Slama, President,

Naomi Starkman, Founder, Editor-in-chief, Civil Eats

Anim Steel, Real Food Challenge

Josh Viertel, Former President, Slow Food USA

David Wallinga, MD, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy

Alice Waters, Owner of Chez Panisse Restaurant

Andrew Weil, MD, Founder and Director, Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine

Tom and Denesse Willey, T&D Willey Farms

Paul Willis, Founder/Manager Niman Ranch Pork Company

Mark Winne, Mark Winne Associates