The Latest News and Updates on What’s Going On in the World
Why We Need a Farm Bill Now
By Denise Clemons
What is the Farm Bill? The purpose of the Farm Bill is to provide a framework for how we grow and sell food, protect our nation’s farmers and deliver food assistance programs to the needy. This complex bundle of legislation to regulate farm production and prices was originally developed in 1933 as an emergency measure during the Great Depression. Since that time, approximately every five years a new set of farm bill statutes is enacted.
Last year, Congress worked on the elements of a 2012 Farm Bill, but didn’t complete the task before their session ended and the bill was tabled in the House in December. As part of the recent “fiscal cliff” negotiations, instead of passing new Farm Bill legislation, Congress authorized an extension of the existing statutes through September 2013. We are presently operating under the conditions established by the 2008 Farm Bill, known as the Food, Conservation and Energy Act.
Growers and consumers, many of whom would have preferred new legislation that more accurately reflected current conditions, did not universally support extending the existing farm bill. One of the features of the extension is to lock in another round of controversial direct payments in government subsidies to grain, cotton and soybean farmers, some of which are no longer considered necessary.
Another concern with the extension is the lack of funding for a set of key sustainable agriculture programs, including: disaster aid, support for local farmers markets, organic research, renewable energy and rural development. Finally, the extension lowered funding levels for SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) and discontinued funding for key food education programs.
Because of the complexity of the Farm Bill, which contains fifteen different sections or titles, various interest groups will compete for shrinking funding as the new legislation is crafted. Now that Congress has returned to Washington to begin another round of debates on this critical topic, take a moment to share your thoughts with your elected representatives. We want a Farm Bill that rewards farmers – large and small – for their good stewardship of the land; that promotes delivery of fresh and healthy food to our neighborhoods; that encourages new farmers and restores equity in the marketplace.
Real food, is that too much to ask?
Robyn O’Brien’s book title is a mouthful in itself – The Unhealthy Truth: One Mother’s Shocking Investigation into the Dangers of America’s Food Supply – and What Every Family Can Do to Protect Itself. A former food industry analyst, Fulbright grant recipient, and mother of four, O’Brien brings insight and detailed analysis to her research into the impact that the global food system is having on our health. Watch this video of her speech at the TED Austin
How Close Can a Farmers Market Be to a Train Track?
Check out this farmers market challenged by a train. The market shown in the video is one located at Maeklong (Maekrong) a town near Bangkok. A news photo of the market from 2001 has the following caption: “Thai vegetable market vendors pull back temporary shades and their produce off a railway track to allow a cross-country train to pass through the middle of the town of Maekrong, 60 kilometers west of Bangkok, April 5, 2001. The bustling market, in the middle of the town, has to scramble from the tracks eight times a day as trains pass, a scene repeated in other rural centers and some city slums across Thailand every day.”
And an article about the markets published on the Rex Features website notes that, in spite of regular interruptions by passing trains, the market works very well and only two people have died during the last twenty years. Take a look—it’s incredible! Go to Train and the Market.
Do Eggs from Pastured Hens Have a Greater Nutritional Value?
A study conducted by researchers in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences has shown that eggs produced by chickens allowed to forage in pastures are higher in some beneficial nutrients than are eggs laid by caged hens. The research, titled “Vitamins A, E and fatty acid composition of the eggs of caged hens and pastured hens, ” was published online this year in the January issue of “Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems.” The researchers examined how moving pastured hens to forage legumes or mixed grasses influenced hen egg omega-3 fatty acids and concentrations of vitamins A and E. “Compared to eggs of the commercial hens, eggs from pastured hens had twice as much vitamin E and long-chain omega-3 fats, more than double the total omega-3 fatty acids, and less than half the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids,” said lead investigator Heather Karsten, associate professor of crop production ecology.
Grain Exchanges and Commodity Indexes
For all of us food economic-history wonks there is a fascinating article in the July 2010 issue of Harper’s about the history of grain exchanges, commodity indexes, speculation, and how they affect the price of food in America. Find it at “The Food Bubble.”
Roundup Resistant Superweeds March Throughout the U.S.
I’ve now seen two articles in the last week about weeds that are resistant to Roundup from Monsanto. In case you forgot, about 20 years ago Monsanto introduced Roundup Ready seeds and herbicides. Roundup Ready seeds were genetically modified to have an immunity to Roundup, an herbicide. Farmers could then use Roundup on their crops and not destroy valuable food crops. 90 percent of the nation’s soybeans and 70 to 80 percent of our corn and cotton are Roundup Ready crops. Farmers started to see Roundup resistant weeds about 10 years ago, and now they are becoming epidemic. To deal with this emerging problem, other chemical companies such as Dupont, Dow, Bayer, Basf, and Sygenta are working to develop other modified soybean, corn, and cotton seeds that can survive a dousing of older herbicides. In the article “Superweed Outbreak Triggers Arms Race” in the June 4 issue of the Wall Street Journal John Jachetta, a scientist at Dow Chemical’s Dow AgroSciences and President of the Weed Science Society of America was quoted as saying “It will be a very significant opportunity” for chemical companies. “It is a new era.” You really need to read this article.
Social Justice and Local Food
“When you buy from farms that treat their workers fairly, you are helping to limit the cruel conditions for farm workers. And although it’s not always possible to find out, knowing your farm vendor or visiting his or her farm (or Web site) may give you some idea of how the staff is treated. Your food dollar votes for everything it takes to make that food, including the treatment of the people who grow it.” -Amy Cotler, from The Locavore Way: Discover and Enjoy the Pleasures of Locally Grown Food
Sweet Potatoes Contain Protective Antioxidants
An article in Farmers’ Markets Today reports that caffeoylquinic acids, which are known for their antioxidant activities, were found in measurable amounts in sweet potatoes by ARS scientists. The highest levels of the compounds were found in the layer of tissue just under the skin, intermediate levels were found in the interior of the sweet potato, and the lowest levels were found in the skin. The research was published in the Journal of the American Society for Horticultural Science.
American Medical Association (AMA) Passes Resolution Supporting Sustainable Food System
In June, the AMA approved a new policy resolution to support practices and policies that promote ecologically sustainable food systems. The resolution also calls on the AMA to educate the health care community and the public about the importance of healthy and ecologically sustainable food systems. To read more about the resolution go to AMA Supports Sustainability