Farm bill reflects changes in Americans’ eating habits
By Jennifer Steinhauer THE NEW YORK TIMES
WASHINGTON — The farm bill signed by President Barack Obama last month was at first glance the usual boon for soybean growers, catfish farmers and their ilk. But closer examination reveals that the nation’s agriculture policy is increasingly more whole grain than white bread.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., shepherded the farm bill through Congress.
- Within the bill is a significant shift in the types of farmers who are now benefiting from taxpayer dollars, reflecting a decade of changing eating habits and cultural dispositions among U.S. consumers.
- Organic farmers, fruit growers and hemp producers all did well in the new bill. An emphasis on locally grown, healthful foods appeals to a broad base of their constituents, members of both major parties said.
“There is nothing hotter than farm to table,” said Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Mich.
- While traditional commodity subsidies were cut by more than 30 percent to $23 billion over 10 years, funding for fruits and vegetables and organic programs increased by more than 50 percent over the same period, to about $3 billion.
Programs that help food-stamp recipients pay for fruits and vegetables — to get healthful food into neighborhoods that have few grocery stores and to get schools to grow their own food — all received large bumps in the bill.
The bill also eased a 75-year-old restriction on growing and researching industrial hemp, paving the way for several states to begin pilot growing programs for this variety of the cannabis plant.
- “This is my fourth farm bill, and it’s the most unique I have ever been involved in,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D- Mich., who negotiated, prodded, cajoled and finally shepherded the bill through Congress over 2-1/2 years. “Past farm bills pit regions against regions. I said that we were going to support all of agriculture.”
Stabenow reached agreement with her Republican counterparts in the Senate as well as the House, where the most-conservative members sought big cuts to the food and nutrition program that makes up about 80 percent of the bill.
Stabenow had to fend off the most-conservative House members, who at one point wanted drug testing for food-stamp recipients. (Stabenow said she would agree only if every recipient of farm-bill dollars was also tested.)
She also had to deal with liberals who pushed back against any cuts to the food-stamp program, including a provision that had allowed some states to inflate recipients’ assistance by counting the costs of utility bills that some did not actually have.