How the Farm Bill affects what and how our dinner makes it to the table

June 27, 2012

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The 2012 Farm Bill passed the Senate last week with a 64-35 vote. Michigan Senator and Senate Agriculture Committee chairwoman Debbie Stabenow told a reporter in her home state that "this isn't your father's Farm Bill." The Senator said the current version of the Bill-which still needs to pass the House-will create jobs and support farmers.

There are some key issues in the bill that will catch farmers' attention, like proposed changes to direct payments and farm subsidies. As part of a plan from the Great Depression, farmers currently receive payments, regardless of their crop production. Under the new bill farmers would instead rely on subsidized crop insurance to survive difficult growing and selling periods. The crop insurance program is not facing cuts, much to the dismay of critics who claim the program looks out more for insurance companies than farmers. One critic of the bill, the Environmental Working Group, said of insurance subsidies: "The Senate was not allowed to debate amendments that would have capped crop insurance subsidies and eliminated or reformed costly new revenue guarantees."

While the bill has an obvious impact on farmers, it also affects consumers and the food we eat. Food writer and co-founder of Maverick Farms Tom Philpott says the biggest issue with how food travels from farm to grocer to kitchen table is market control by a few companies. Philpott says that four companies buy and process the majority of our beef and pork, and have a sizable stake in poultry production. A few companies controlling the meat counter can make it difficult for smaller producers to get into the game. Philpott says this creates a lack of diversity in our dietary options. He does concede, however, that smaller, grassroots efforts by farmers' markets and urban farmers are helping bring more fresh food to those people seeking it out. 

Tom Philpott and Iowa Public Radio reporter Clay Masters join Steve Edwards on Afternoon Shift to break down the Farm Bill-what do the policies mean for what we eat?