Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Hey, What Happened to the Farm Bill?

Remember a few weeks ago when the Farm Bill was all over the news? I had kind of assumed that it had passed when I wasn't paying attention, but it turns out they just postponed making a decision about it, probably until after November's presidential election.

If you're not familiar with it, the Farm Bill comes up in Congress once every five years and dictates agricultural policies like food safety, international trade, environmental conservation, all kinds of stuff. Our current bill expired on September 30th, and has apparently been sitting around Capitol Hill twiddling its thumbs and waiting for someone to remember it ever since.

In the meantime, there was a suspicious absence of any mention of such a bill at the first presidential debate last week. I know, I know, there are more debates to come. We don't have time to squeeze everything into an hour and a half. But since health care plans and their costs were certainly discussed to death, it seems like the issue of what Americans eat and how we get it maybe deserved a word or two. After all, food is our most basic preventative medicine.

With families struggling to provide their children with basic nutrition, theories floating around that Alzheimer's is a form of diabetes, and the seriously alarming rumors that we may be facing a bacon shortage very soon, our agricultural system is something we can't afford to put on the back burner.

Unfortunately, what attention has been paid to the Farm Bill so far is not promising in the least. According the latest news I could find, things are looking pretty bleak for those of us wary of genetically modified crops. Three provisions in the current draft of the farm bill put far too much power in the hands of the USDA, which already has quite enough, if you ask me. Under the bill as it currently reads, the Department of Agriculture would have sole power to regulate how many (unlabeled, I'm sure) GMOs make their way into our food system, while simultaneously preventing the Department from accepting any outside money for researching whether GMOs are, you know, dangerous.  The best part, though, is definitely the ticking time bomb clause that states that if the people over at the USDA put off making a decision about any given GMO crop for long enough and miss their deadline, that particular food will be approved by default.

Seriously?  It's no wonder they're calling this group of provisions the "Monsanto Rider."

It doesn't stop there, of course. There's all kinds of controversy on the table about how much funding should be allotted to nutritional assistance for low-income families, (Spoiler alert: it's almost definitely going to be less than the current budget.) not to mention what, if any, changes will be made in the policy regarding our increasingly precarious way of subsidizing commodity crops and artificially boosting demand for them at the cost of our economy and our health.

So what do you think? Is it a good thing that they're putting off deciding on the Farm Bill until we know who's going to spend the next four years in the White House? Would a second term Obama deliver on his 2008 promise to label GMOs? Are we going to hear anything about this issue in the upcoming debates? Discuss.

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