Daniel Imhoff is the co-author of The Farm Bill: A Citizen's Guide with Christina Badaracco. This op-ed was originally published December 14, 2018 on Sustainable Food Trust.
Unfortunately for people who truly care about a world centered around healthy agricultural landscapes and nourishing affordable food, this Bill looks a lot like the same old Big Ag friendly boondoggle. Commodity farmers will be set to receive more handouts – instead of fewer – to overproduce crops such as soy or corn, in monocultures that erode the soil, poison the water and air, raise animals in factory conditions and devastate biodiversity. Milk producers will be able to continue to flood markets with less risk of bankruptcy and cotton growers will rake in expanded subsidies as well.
After many decades, the US Department of Agriculture is reversing its ban on industrial hemp cultivation. Cannabis containing less than 0.3% of psychoactive THC can be grown as a commodity and rotation crop and will be eligible for federally-subsidized crop insurance. Some are predicting a rapid reintroduction of the versatile fiber and oilseed crop across North American farmscapes.
The Washington Post editorial board described the soon to be signed legislation as “a bad bill—that could have been a lot worse.” Because the US House and Senate were so far apart in their separate versions of the bill, the process moved to a compromise phase known as ‘conferencing.’ A deal was made between Republicans and Democrats – despite the fact that a newly elected Democratic majority in the House will be seated in January that could have presumably pushed for a stronger position. One can only wonder why the minority leaders bargained to finalise a bill with the current draconian House, rather than waiting a month for a more reform-minded chamber?
To preserve the status quo is the only logical presumption.
Granted, the Republicans play hard ball. The House Bill included strict work and job training requirements for certain food stamp recipients, in the name of promoting “independence”. This would have negatively affected more than a million hungry Americans for questionable budget savings. The House Bill also included riders that would have permitted the use of neonicotinoid chemicals that harm pollinators, exempted pesticides from clean water regulations and eased restrictions on logging in public lands under the guise of fuel reduction. The Democrats declared victory when these crucial elements were dropped. But whether they were ever serious expectations or just part of a shrewd negotiating strategy, is a burning question.
Continue reading the full op-ed on Sustainable Food Trust.