Every five to seven years, Congress votes to reauthorize one of the largest and most significant legislative measures affecting land use policies in the U.S - the Farm Bill. This year, Congress will debate the omnibus legislation that defines not only America's agricultural policy, but determines funding priorities for rural development, food and nutrition assistance, energy and environmental issues.
The 2007 Farm Bill represents a major opportunity to create a healthier and more sustainable food system. Unfortunately, many of the policies and spending priorities of the Farm Bill fail to meet the needs of farmers, communities, and citizens. At its core, the Farm Bill was designed to create stable and sustainable rural communities. However, the current farm safety net provides support to less than half of the nation's farms. The bulk of the payments support a narrow set of commodities, including corn, soy, and wheat, that provide cheap raw materials for processed ingredients and animal feed. And while about half of every Farm Bill dollar goes to the federal food and nutrition assistance programs, more than 35 million Americans struggle to feed their families and rates of obesity, diabetes, and other diet-related diseases have reached epidemic proportions. Our Farm Bill policies have failed to halt the loss of farm land; contributed to poor water quality and soil erosion; and compounded economic instability in farming communities around the world who must compete with subsidized American commodities.
This year, the debate in Congress is spreading far beyond the traditional farm bill interests. Environmentalists, public health advocates, and community development advocates are joining the call for a Farm Bill that promotes a healthier and more sustainable food system. These advocates have recognized that the Farm Bill policies and allocations fail to reflect what farmers, the environment, and communities actually need. This Farm Bill represents an opportunity to advance a national dialogue about the future of our food system.
What can planners do?