September 27, 2023

The Agriculture Improvement Act of this year, sometimes known as the “Farm Bill,” would fund American food systems with an estimated $700 billion over five years. If it repeats previous mistakes, it will increase regional and global environmental issues while excluding workers and farm animals and leaving families and farmers insecure.

In other words, it will prioritize Big Ag’s profits over the rest of us, including people, farm animals, and the environment.

Investments and regulations under the Farm Bill should promote universal nutritional security and sustainable farming possibilities, employing plants and plant-based foods as vital tools to achieve these goals. The current industrial agricultural investment paradigm, which benefits billionaire investors and wealthy landowners at the expense of the rest of us, is likely to be reinforced by the Farm Bill.

The bill is a maze-like collection of titles covering credit, commodity insurance, research, conservation, and other facets of the American food and agriculture system. It will contain financing for vital nutrition support feeding over 40 million Americans. Even the most renowned food policy academics have said that it would be impossible to break down the Farm Bill due to its complexity.

These non-nutrition-related titles may be understood in terms of their objectives, which include creating the institutional and financial foundation for industrial agriculture. The largest landowners benefit from a system of assured profits created by credit, commodity support, and insurance as long as they invest in feed, fuel, or international exports rather than food for their people. In actuality, the Farm Bill-funded Agricultural Research Service spends more on product sales than it does on nutrition, conservation, and sustainability combined.

The concept of industrial agriculture seriously damages the land, the water, and the environment. The majority of U.S. rivers are “too polluted for our health,” despite the fact that conservation programs promise to avert the worst of these, and the Environmental Protection Agency continues to systematically understate the role of agricultural systems to the climate problem. Government greenwashing and oversimplified generalizations that the policies of the government and industrial agricultural corporations automatically incorporate such values result from specific regulations, such as the requirement that animal agriculture receive 50% of federal Environmental Quality Incentives Program funding, among others. The Farm Bill, which is only approved twice every ten years, effectively permits Big Ag to be compensated for its pollution and cleanup efforts.

The Farm Bill has traditionally been seen by policymakers as a partnership between families and farmers. Despite any protestations to the contrary, this year’s Farm Bill will probably fail both families and farmers unless active efforts are made to change the fundamental assumptions in favor of corporate agriculture. More than 90% of American people, as determined by their consumption of fruits and vegetables, have poor eating habits, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. According to the Environmental Working Group, the richest 7% of recipients receive 60% of all direct-to-farmer subsidies. The Farm Bill places a higher value on supply chain consolidation and scarcity than universal nutritional security and long-term farmer possibilities.

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The Farm Bill has to be changed title by title. The Food and Farm Act, introduced by Oregon Rep. Earl Blumenauer, is a brave move in this direction. Our groups joined activists for farmers, the environment, human health, justice, and farmed animals in a unified plea for reform during his March 29 Capitol Hill legislation start. We must commit to food systems that will feed people today and guarantee that subsequent generations can do the same. We are now pleading with Congress to prioritize health and sustainability over Big Ag profits on behalf of farmers, families, and the rest of us.

At Farm Sanctuary, Alexandra Bookis serves as senior manager of U.S. government affairs.

Registered dietitian Mark Rifkin works as the Center for Biological Diversity’s senior food and agricultural policy specialist.

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