Improving nutrition in schools and fighting trade barriers are two priorities of the US Department of Agriculture's (USDA) 2007 farm bill proposal, unveiled yesterday by Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns.
The proposal represents the final phase of a two-year process, during which over 50 forums were conducted across the country, and 4,000 comments were recorded.
Regulated by the USDA and renewed every five to six years, farm bills are a collection of laws that set the overall direction of the nation's agriculture.
The legislation set out in a farm bill aims to provide a safe and affordable supply of food through programs that promote US agriculture. The bills typically contain provisions for commodity prices, agricultural trade and crop insurance, amongst others.
The new proposals announced yesterday aim to create a market-oriented farm program, considering more than commodity prices alone when determining the appropriate level of government support.
The new bill proposes to spend around $10bn less than the 2002 farm bill, with the largest single slice of the budget ($7.8bn) going towards increasing conservation programs that protect the natural environment.
The government is also proposing to spend nearly $5bn in supporting specialty crop producers by increasing nutrition in food assistance programs, including school meals. This is to be achieved through the purchase of fruits and vegetables, funding specialty crop research, fighting trade barriers and expanding export markets, said the USDA.
"In the nutrition area, we have some things targeted at our fruit and vegetable farmers. We have heard a lot: 'You promote eating fruits and vegetables; are you going to follow up in the Farm Bill with what you say people should be doing?' 'Yes' is the answer to that question," said Johanns yesterday.
"We will provide $2.75 billion in additional fruit and vegetable purchases for distribution in food assistance programs. We'll increase funding by $500 million for schools to buy fruits and vegetables. Now this is a program where a school may look at this and say, 'We want it in a snack program.' Great. We're fine with that. They may say, 'We want it in the Breakfast Program,' or 'The Lunch Program.' We want to give the schools the discretion to put the program in place - as long as they are buying fruits and vegetables that will best serve the needs of that school," he added.
Almost $400m will be dedicated to trade efforts to expand exports, fight trade barriers and increase involvement in world trade standard-setting bodies.
The bill would also provide funding for grants targeting low-income areas to develop and test solutions for the growing problem of obesity.
The Nation's Food Stamp program is also set to be "modernized" and "simplified" , with an aim of improving access for the elderly and people on low-income. The program may also undergo a name change to the Food and Nutrition Program, or something similar.
The new farm bill also proposes to: focus on renewable energy research, development and production; support start-up farmers and socially disadvantaged farmers; strengthen disaster relief; and simplify and consolidate rural development programs.
Initial industry reactions have called the new proposals "a step in the right direction".
To access the proposals, click here .