Faith and the Federal Farm Bill

There may not  be any other piece of federal legislation which touches so many lives and so much land as does the federal Farm Bill. Up for renewal and revision about every six years, this omnibus bill affects crop subsidies, food and nutrition for the poor, food and nutrition for everyone else, energy, conservation, and the ability of farmers in the developing world to make a living.

Much of America’s poor diet, poor land use, water pollution, industrialization and concentration of agriculture in the hands of fewer and fewer "agribusinesses" is a result of the distortions and wealth transfers effected by the Farm Bill. The damage is not limited to the U.S.–farmers around the world whose hopes for the future are pinned to producing crops for export are hurt when American agricultural goods are priced lower than their cost of production. Food aid to the developing world is partly first-world generosity and partly an elaborate dumping scheme to rid the global North of agricultural overproduction induced by market-distorting subsidies.

Yet the Bill does much good as well. Plummeting waterfowl populations were restored through the land set-aside provisions of the Farm Bill, with marginal croplands and previously farmed wetlands restored to health with conservation support in the Farm Bill. Many, many forest owners have received technical assistance to better manage their forest lands for wildlife, soil conservation, and water quality because of funding for such program through the Farm Bill. And millions of school children and poor families benefit from the National School Lunch Program, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), and the Food Stamp Program (all a part of the Farm Bill, believe it or not!).

Here’s the best starting point for a person of faith wanting to get a feel for agricultural issues and how they can be involved: check out the Spring 2007 issue of Catholic Rural Life, the magazine of the (U.S.) National Catholic Rural Life Conference. You can find backgrounders, principles from the Religious Working Group on the Farm Bill, links to other useful sources of information, and a checklist of point to emphasize when you write your Representative or Senator.

Other sources of valuable information on the Farm Bill (not all Christian, by any means, but all useful):

It probably wouldn’t take much for you to become the Farm Bill expert in your church. Why not check out a few of these links and then ask a few friends to join you in writing your Senators and Representative (especially if they’re on the House or Senate Ag committees; you can send an automated message about wildlife conservation in the Farm Bill through the NWF portal, or you can see the list of committe members at NCRLC)?

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