Americans are experiencing a tidal wave of food insecurity related to the coronavirus pandemic. Historic unemployment claims and surging demand at food banks are laying bare the precarious circumstances of many of our citizens and the inadequacy of our social safety net. We can learn from the coronavirus epidemic--and we must in order to prevent human suffering in the future. Taking stock and then reforming our policies should start now while legislative momentum is possible--not after the country has moved past the apex of the disease.
In a recent episode of the podcast, Good Law/Bad Law, I joined host Aaron Freiwald to discuss the vital connection between the 2018 Farm Bill, the pandemic, and the startling food insecurity so many Americans are now facing. Along the way, we touched on how the current crisis is a harbinger of future food insecurity given climate change and growing global demand, as well as opportunities to restructure future farm bills to provide a sustainable and equitable safety net for producers and consumers.
You can listen to the podcast below, or download for later, here.
A special report released on Aug. 8 by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change shines a stark light on how agriculture is both uniquely impacted by and a key driver of climate change, contributing up to 37 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions. The report highlights the pressing need to reverse land degradation and forest conversion caused by food, feed and fiber production, as well as the significant climate mitigation opportunities of shifting to plant-based diets, especially in wealthy countries like ours.
The United States depends on its vast agricultural and forest lands for a host of amenities, including food, fiber, clean water — and mitigating climate change. These working lands, many of which are already degraded, are under unprecedented stress from rising temperatures and extreme weather. We need a climate plan for agriculture.
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As it stands, agriculture …
The Democratic majority in the U.S. House of Representatives has a weighty agenda – from policy reform to oversight of the Trump administration. Given all that the House Democrats have on their plate, urging them to restore policy rationality by making the support of science-based policy central to their strategy might seem like a prosaic ask, but it's critically important.
Without science as the lodestar for government policymaking, anything goes, which is exactly the problem. As the Union of Concerned Scientists documented in a recent report, the Trump administration has been marginalizing science and isolating federal scientists for the past two years. Trump appointees have systematically undercut the science-based policies and regulations forged to protect human health and the environment. This has opened the door to irrational policymaking aimed at benefiting the industries and special interests to which these appointees are linked.
The bipartisan design of our …
The midterm elections are over, and most of the races have been decided. The outcome will have consequences for a wide variety of policies and legislation, including the 2018 Farm Bill. So what's the status of the bill? What are its prospects for passage during what remains of the 115th Congress? And how will the current and near-future political landscape impact the legislation's conservation provisions?
To answer these questions and more, I moderated a recent Center for Progressive Reform webinar with Ferd Hoefner of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, Caroline Kitchens of the R Street Institute, and Alix Murdoch of American Forests. While we all agreed that it's encouraging that the House and Senate conference committee is still working on the legislation, the discouraging news is that much remains to be resolved in the jam-packed lame-duck session.
Some of the major differences between the House and Senate …
Donald Trump has, in a sense, made good on his promise to "drain" Washington, D.C. – but not in the way many people probably thought he would. The exodus from our nation's capital has been made up of the scientists, diplomats, and policy experts that a democracy needs to function, not the high-powered, special interest lobbyists voters likely had in mind. Meanwhile, a raft of grifters has gleefully taken a temporary perch in the executive branch. The ensuing debacles, scandals, and assaults on safeguards and agencies have made it stunningly clear how critical a competent, public interest-focused executive branch is to our country's well-being.
One recent example of Trump's war on federal agencies is Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Sonny Perdue's surprise announcement last month that he planned to reorganize the Economic Research Service (ERS), an independent economic research agency. Perdue's announcement was a shock to ERS …
Scott Pruitt's narcissistic reign as EPA Administrator consumed advocates' collective energies, and rightfully so. It was a drama that recently ended – not via Trump tweet, but by old-fashioned resignation. Alas, this victory's potential downside is that the new guy at EPA, Andrew Wheeler, may be more effective at dismantling environmental protections than Pruitt was because Wheeler actually understands how bureaucracy works.
Then, of course, came the orchestrated events surrounding Justice Kennedy's retirement and President Trump's pick to fill the vacancy, thrusting Brett Kavanaugh to center stage. Environmental protection (among other issues) seems imperiled as the Court is poised to take a hard "right" turn if Kavanaugh is confirmed.
But as we continue to keep a vigilant eye on EPA and the future trajectory of the Supreme Court, let's not forget weighty environmental legislation currently making its way through Congress: the 2018 Farm Bill.
Yes, you read that …
Last week, the House Agriculture Committee passed a pock-marked, micro-legislated Farm Bill along strict party lines. It's a shameful goody bag of legislative delights for a few that comes at the expense of the majority of the American people.
Some lowlights: The bill holds our hungriest Americans hostage by conditioning SNAP benefits (food stamps) on job training (what kind of country withholds food from its citizens?); reduces conservation dollars that are critically needed given the pitiful state of soil health and our waterways; and provides commodity supports to producers who are wealthy and don't need the help.
Fortunately, unlike the old days, Americans are starting to pay attention to the Farm Bill. Given the opaque and highly consolidated nature of our food system, people are increasingly concerned about how and where their food is produced. And for good reason. The United States is plagued by …
Who doesn't want to breathe clean air?
Unfortunately, a "bipartisan" bill now working its way through the Senate would undermine our ability to address a growing source of air pollution – livestock operations. The so-called Fair Agriculture Reporting Method Act (S. 2421), or the "FARM Act," would amend the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), better known as the Superfund law, to exempt agricultural producers from reporting toxic air emissions. The bill's clever name is a misnomer: it lets livestock producers stop reporting emissions altogether. Its passage would seriously undermine our ability to address a growing pollution problem that disproportionately impacts rural communities and socially disadvantaged Americans.
To understand how the FARM Act came about, we have to go back 20 years. That's when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) realized that it had insufficient emissions data from animal feeding operations (AFOs) – industrial-style farming …
This blog post is part of a series on the 2018 Farm Bill.
Since the 1930s, Congress has tried to formulate an effective farm “safety net,” oscillating among different schemes in order to protect farmers from the severe economic impacts of the Depression and the Dust Bowl. What started as a New Deal emergency intervention has become an entrenched legislative ritual. Indeed, this perennial Farm Bill debate remains a relic of 20th century policy. It’s designed to perpetuate, not to innovate.
The farm safety net incentivizes commodity producers to maintain a business-as-usual approach because farmers are guaranteed a rate of return by the federal government. In particular, under the current Farm Bill, adopted in 2014, producers are eligible for crop insurance supported by taxpayer-subsidized premiums of 62 percent on average. In addition, corn, soybean, and other commodity producers can receive price and income supports when prices …
This blog post is the first in a forthcoming series on the 2018 Farm Bill.
As Congress begins the complex task of crafting the next Farm Bill, much is at stake – from conservation to "food stamps" to rural economies. This blog post is the first in a series addressing important policy considerations with an eye toward making the Farm Bill more effective, rather than backsliding on these and other important issues.
President Obama once referred to the current (2014) Farm Bill as a "Swiss Army knife" because of the many areas of American life that it touches. Another way to think of the omnibus legislation, passed roughly every four to five years, is as a food security bill.
Food security is a helpful framework to foster improved policy coherence in the next Farm Bill across a breadth of policy areas. A food-secure Farm Bill is one that …