The nearly one trillion dollar farm bill passed the senate on Tuesday, with plenty of good news for the state of agriculture, but also plenty of bad news. The massive bill impacts farms as well as food quality, and it cuts food stamps and farmer’s market spending. At the same time, the bill supports getting healthy food to people who have trouble getting it and tightens up regulations on meat labeling so consumers can make more informed decisions. And of course, the ever controversial farm subsidies were also addressed by legislators, with a massive overhaul of the 82-year old system.
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On the bright side, the bill finally tackles farm subsidies, which have been controversial in recent years because many see them as a handout to the rich and not really very beneficial for small farmers. The new subsidy system places more risk in the hands of the government and less on farmers, which is good for the farmer, but may not be so good for tax payers if there happens to be a crop crisis. The bill ends the old type of subsidies, which ensures farmers were paid regardless of market price or crop quality, and puts in place a new system where the government subsidizes the cost of crop insurance. The bill also expands the type of crops that are subsidized, so now, in addition to the big crops like corn, wheat and soy, crops like sushi rice are also covered, which is good because it means that there is more incentive for farmers to grow a wider range of crops.
Other provisions in the bill have both good and bad aspects, such as the parts addressing conservation. The bill cuts conservation spending overall, but it also forces farmers who want subsidies to follow conservation guidelines and cuts subsidies for those who till virgin soil in order to plant crops. While food stamps got slashed to the tune of 8 billion dollars over the next 10 years, the bill does add $125 million in spending for the USDA’s Healthy Food Financing Initiative, which finances food merchants who have ideas to improve access to healthy food.
When it comes to food labeling, the bill adds new, stricter policies for labeling meat. Now every label on pork, chicken or beef must show where the animal was born, slaughtered and processed, which lawmakers hope will allow consumers to make more informed buying decisions and help control disease outbreaks. The next stop for the bill is President Obama’s desk, where it is expected that the president will sign it into law.