Just who does the farm bill really benefit?

You could make a case, some critics say, that the latest edition of the Farm Bill is oriented more toward the needs of Big (Farming) Business than those of the people. The trouble, National Public Radio’s (NPR) Scott Neuman was quoted as saying by The Los Angeles Times, is that the farm bill is “an all-encompassing piece of legislation comprising everything from farm subsidies and crop insurance — which have an indirect impact on food prices — to energy, forestry, food stamps and school lunches.” The devil, however, is in the details in such an omnibus offering.

The bill, reported Alexandra Le Tellier, would cut almost $24 billion from farm programs over the next ten years, and all kinds of folks with agendas of their own are hoping to influence the allocation of the remaining funds through the plethora of amendments being heard in the Senate right now. At the center of the arguments brought on by constricted money is what to do about the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), better known as food stamps.

With $969 billion available for farm programs, there is conservative pressure to cut food stamps, and it is true that they represent the majority of farm bill funds. Still, The L.A. Times noted, as a recent statement by The New York Times editorial board said, “such a cutback in food benefits for struggling families and children is unconscionable in a bill containing plenty of unnecessary giveaways for corporate farming interests.”

Objections regarding SNAP cuts are that the nation’s children are already nutritionally-challenged and giving over huge segments of the shrinking farm bill funding to crop producers just aggravates the nutrition problem by supporting the fast food mentality. Dan Imhoff and Michael Dimock argued in an L.A. Times op-ed article that “crop subsidies and federal insurance should be aimed at the foods humans should eat.” Note the use of “should.” Currently, they argued, “the lion’s share of subsidies goes to commodity crops used to feed livestock or to produce ethanol or overly processed foods.”

Supporters of direct nutrition programs, such as SNAP and school lunches, have noted that although the new bill slashes subsidies, it is replacing them in many cases with expensive crop insurance on steroids. They argue that subsidies are no longer justifiable in an era in which farming as an industry is doing just fine thank-you-very-much. They simply don’t believe that a multi-billion-dollar industry needs a federal safety net.

They further argue that the remaining subsidies and the crop insurance program benefit the producers of the five biggest commodity crops, corn, soybeans, cotton, rice and wheat. Meanwhile, said Imhoff and Anna Lappe in an open letter, “millions of consumers lack access to affordable fruits and vegetables, with the result that the diets of fewer than 5 percent of adults met the USDA’s daily nutrition guidelines.”

What should the role of the farm bill be in the lives of Joe Average American? Some have said that given the low rate of fruit and vegetable consumption in the U.S. and rampant obesity, it should have a real impact on assuring good health. They claim the only healthy aspect of the new bill is that of the producers’ wallets.

That’s a view you won’t hear much over coffee downtown. But it could be a voice in the wilderness.

I’ll see ya.

An Iowa native, Peter Graham has been a rural newspaper editor for 39 years. He currently edits a twice-weekly paper in Western Iowa. You can contact him at (712) 642-2791 or [email protected] times.com