MORE INFORMATION: Farm Bill Update October 2007

October 22, 2007
  • Scripture tells us that “the earth is the Lord's" and that all land is held in trust by human hands, to be used fairly and justly for the flourishing of all people. In one way or another, the farm bill touches every American and billions of people around the world: farm families, rural communities, and people in need. The U.S. Farm Bill should reflect our nation’s commitment to strong and vibrant farms and rural communities, an adequate and nutritious diet for all Americans, and an opportunity for all people to benefit from the abundance of the land.
  • Unfortunately, the current Farm Bill reflects very little of this important moral foundation. The vision behind the first Farm Bill in the 1930s – an economic safety net to sustain struggling farmers and rural communities during difficult times – is barely recognizable in today’s legislation.
  • Under the current system, three quarters of commodity payments go to the top 10 percent of U.S. producers. Most American farm families – three in four – receive nothing from the U.S. government. Rural America supports reform because reform is good for rural America.
  • Reform of the current system is also key to the eradication of deadly poverty and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (of which fair trade is part of Goal 8). Reform of the U.S. cotton subsidy, for example, would help 10 million African cotton farmers bring at least $90 billion in new money into their nations’ economies each year: more than the sum of U.S. poverty-focused foreign aid to Africa.
  • The bill passed by the House in July, while making some steps towards progress in many titles, largely preserves and perpetuates an unbalanced commodity system. The hope for farm-bill reform now lies with the Senate, which is expected to act in the next month.
  • The Senate should pass a bill that brings comprehensive reform to the farm bill. Comprehensive reform is reform that reclaims the moral foundation for U.S. farm policy and establishes a new covenant with rural America and people living in need at home and around the world. Specifically this means:

- Ensuring Support for American Farmers who Need it Most: The House bill continues to direct the largest cash payments to the largest, wealthiest farms while leaving behind the majority of farm families. The Senate should pass a fair commodity title that better targets payments to those who need them while closing loopholes that have permitted some to collect multiple payments.

- Reducing Trade-Distorting Subsidies: The impact of our policies does not stop at our borders. It is clear that our commodity programs have distorted global markets with dire consequences for poor farmers in developing countries, where three-quarters of the population rely on small-scale farming for their livelihood. The Senate should begin the transition to a modern safety net that helps American farmers effectively manage their risk, and reduces the potential for trade distortions that stymie the efforts of developing countries to work their way out of poverty.

- Strengthening programs such as nutrition, conservation and rural development: The Senate should redirect savings from the improvements to the farm safety net to invest in our other national priorities: a strong nutrition assistance system for low-income Americans, stewardship of the land, strong and diverse rural economies, and effective and efficient food aid for hungry people around the world.