The 2014 farm bill, which Obama signed into law quickly after it passed the Senate and House with bipartisan support, includes an expansion in federal crop insurance, preservation of some important environmental programs and provisions designed to increase employment in rural areas. The act also ends direct government payments that go to farmers whether they produce anything or not.
But much of its nearly $100 billion per year cost is for the food stamp program, which aids one in seven Americans. Though the bill’s authors rejected far larger cuts in the original House bill, which would have cut 3.8 million people from the program, the $800 million in cuts to food stamps will still impact about 850,000 families.
"The amazing reality about farm bills is that they reflect the times in which we live," said House Committee on Agriculture chairman Frank Lucas, responding to the passage of the bill. "They are reviewed, written, debated, and reauthorized nearly every five years. Today our concerns are rightly placed on reducing the size and cost of the federal government. With the president signing the Agricultural Act of 2014 into law, we mark a new era of farm and food policy that values saving money, reforming or repealing government programs, and yet still providing an effective safety net for the production of our national food supply and for those Americans who are struggling.
"I am pleased we have a new farm bill in place to provide certainty for the next five years to America’s farmers, ranchers, and consumers, and I appreciate the efforts of everyone who helped make it possible."
'Not perfect,' but important progress made
In response to the bill's passage, US Department of Agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement that while it's not perfect, the 2014 Agriculture Act will spur job creation, allow those facing hardship to access nutritious food, help protect the environment and encourage innovation through new ag research.
"Building on the historic economic gains in rural America over the past five years, this bill will accomplish those goals while achieving meaningful reform and billions of dollars in savings for the taxpayer," he said. "While no legislation is perfect, this bill is a strong investment in American agriculture and supports the continued global leadership of our farmers and ranchers."
Dairy Farmers of America senior vice president John Wilson expressed a similar bittersweet satisfaction with the passage of the bill, which he said "replaces outdated dairy programs with an important risk management tool that will help the nation’s dairy farm families maintain financial stability. The unified voice the dairy producer community expressed during this process is admirable, and while the final bill does not reflect the exact policy we had proposed, we achieved our goal of creating dairy policy that will better serve US dairy farmers.”
Sugar growers applaud continuation of sugar policy, confectionery companies less pleased
Sugar growers applauded the five-year continuation of the current sugar policy, noting it gives them a chance against low prices and foreign subsidies. “Sugar is the cheapest major commodity policy in America, and it ensures that we have ample supplies of an affordable, homegrown product,” John Hundley, a farmer and chairman of the board of of the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida, said. “Most importantly, it keeps US jobs in America, where they belong. Lawmakers should be proud of what this policy has accomplished.”
On the other hand, large confectioners, which spent millions lobbying lawmakers to gut US sugar policy, were less thrilled with the outcome, calling the policy a drain on taxpayer funds and a net job killer.
"We are deeply disappointed that in crafting the farm bill conference report policymakers failed to take any action to fix the Depression-era US sugar program that is in dire need of reform," Larry Graham, Coalition for Sugar Reform chairman and president of the National Confectioners Association, said in response to last month's farm bill conference report. "With US sugar subsidies costing American taxpayers nearly $300 million last year alone and putting hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs at risk, reform is needed now more than ever."
Bill 'hideously complex, politically corrupt'
In a recent entry on her Food Politics blog, Marion Nestle, professor in the department of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University, called the bill "politically corrupt," and - echoing recently aired sentiments from the Washington Post - "hideously complex." Among the issues Nestle raised:
- "It is so difficult to read (because it refers to previous legislation) that all kinds of things can get into it without being noticed or discussed.
- It is mired in “pork,” things put into it by members of agriculture committees to please particular groups of constituents or lobbyists.
- It is not about what’s best for the American people, farmers, or the poor; it is about what’s best for getting legislators elected.
- It represents a substantial transfer of taxpayer dollars to the wealthiest “farmers” (i.e., agribusiness) at the expense of the poor and, therefore, legislates further income inequity."