Congress needs to pass a Farm Bill that reforms the current system of subsidy payments to corporate agriculture. The current bill that passed the House of Representatives, the Farm Bill Extension Act 2007 (HR 2410) fails to even come close to that goal.
America needs a comprehensive policy that takes into consideration current realities: climate change, the increasing prices of petroleum fertilizers, the scarcity of water, vanishing bees, national obesity, and world hunger. The
guiding principle, according to the Green Party, must be food security for our people and for all the peoples of the world. The primary goal of US farm policy should be to feed healthy food to our nation's people, grown using sustainable methods, while ensuring that all those involved receive living wages and safe working conditions. Unfortunately, Congress has other priorities.
To reach a comprehensive, long lasting solution will take more than just this bill. Representative Ron Kind (D. WI) tried to do more in the previous congress. His 2006 effort never got out of an Agriculture Committee controlled by the most conservative of Republicans. Even with bipartisan support, his amendment to this year's bill was blocked by his own party's leadership for purely partisan considerations.
Although the current legislation expired in September, the Farm Bill is stuck in the Senate and is not expected to move forward soon. The current impasse finds Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) so far apart that they can't even agree on which amendments will be considered on the floor. Even if they do find some area
where they can agree to disagree, it is very probable that President Bush will veto the measure if it contains any provision for the continuation of our current cotton subsidies.
Congress must deal with the question of subsidies this session because the US faces severe penalties from the World Trade Organization (WTO)
if we do not. In 2003, Brazil went to the WTO with the complaint that US subsidies to cotton farmers artificially drove down world prices and
harmed Brazilian [f]armers. When the WTO ruled in Brazil's favor recently, it opened the door for other countries to file $billions of claims against the US.
Subsidies are no longer just a way to ensure that farmers can earn a living. They do not go to those who need them the most. Under the current
structure, 10% of farmers receive 62% of all payments. The ramifications go far beyond this.
In a similar manner, cotton farmers in sub-Saharan Africa have been forced off their farms and into cities where there is no work.Such dislocation is responsible for increasedimmigration at best and results in a new breeding
ground for terrorism at worst.
Closer to home,when US subsidized corn is exported to intoMexico under NAFTA, Mexican farmers are affected. Those farmers, with no longer a viable
livelihood, look elsewhere for ways to feed theirfamilies. The end result is illegal immigration to the US.
Do those Republicans who spend so much effort raising the specter of immigration and terrorism not understand the degree to which our own
policies contribute to those very problems? Are Democrats -- who now have some degree of control in Congress -- so beholden to corporate dollars
that they can not use their newly gained power to make fundamental changes to agriculture policy?
The very minimum that we should get out of this new bill is the inclusion of the Dorgan-Grassley amendments limiting total payments to any one
enterprise This action would free up federal funds for investment in other areas: rural sustainable small-business development, value-added and organic agriculture, conservation. Anything less than that will surelynot satisfy the WTO and will surely result in a veto.
Maybe this Congress will muddle through with a barely acceptable bill, one with Dorgan-Grassley. But it will still favor everything that is big: farms, agri-business, transportation costs, energy use.
There is a natural affinity between the ecological and grassroots democratic goals of the Green Party and the needs of small farmers and rural communities.
Fundamental change will happen when farmers and Greens align their efforts for a food policy that prioritizes a sustainable economy and benefits
the health of our citizens, our land, and our farmers.
CoChair: EcoAction Committee, Green Party
Wisconsin Delegate, International Committee, Green Party