Earlier this month the House of Representatives narrowly passed a highly contested Farm Bill. A new farm bill is passed every five years or so and the current bill is set to expire in September 2013. If the bill expires without a new bill in place then legislation reverts to a 1949 law, which could mean significant price increases.
This is the first farm bill since 1973 that has not included a food stamp program component. Historically, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps) was an important component of the bill because it linked urban nutrition concerns with rural farming policy concerns and garnered support for the farm bill. This split has caused quite an outcry from numerous organizations and politicians.
The bill also halts the implementation of increased food safety and calls for more study of the new safety program. Those involved with food safety expressed concern and displeasure about the barriers to the new program which would result in the FDA having increased control over safe food production.
The bill passed 216 to 208 with no Democrats voting for it and 12 Republicans voting against it. Many are criticizing the bill as being detrimental to America’s standards of nutrition. 532 farm organizations, including America’s biggest farm lobby, requested that the bill not be split. Interestingly, the split has displeased groups on both sides of the issue. While the Democrats are focused on the loss of food stamp funding, conservative organizations argue that it still contains too much government involvement and funding for certain farming sectors that would raise costs.
A pledge has been made that a food stamp bill will be embarked upon next but it is clear that heavy cuts in assistance funding are still intended. In contrast to the House farm bill the Senate bill still contains the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program as a primary component. It is not clear what kind of compromise can be reached between the radically different versions of the farm bill. However, it seems certain to negatively impact the more than 47 million poor Americans who rely on the food stamps for basic sustenance.
– Zoë Meroney
Sources: Reuters, NY Times, Washington Post, CNN, USA Today
Photo: Business Week