Monday, July 2, 2007

Open Letter: Farm Bill

Dear Congressmen and Senators,

I am writing today to urge you to work to pass a fiscally and environmentally responsible farm bill that benefits both small family farms and Americans consumers. The farm bill is a complex piece of legislation that contains a lot of programs that may cost a relatively small amount individually, but in aggregate are expensive and very important to the health of American citizens. Since I am not familiar with the fine details of farm policy, let me list some of the basic questions I want you to ask when judging the bill.

  • Does it support small family farms over agribusiness? Family-operated farms and farmer-owned cooperatives should receive the bulk of farm support, instead of large corporate farms and farm supply companies, which get the most today.
  • Does it support environmentally responsible farming practices? The bill should help farmers preserve topsoil, prevent nutrient runoff, preserve wetlands, and otherwise act or not act in ways that are sustainable over many generations.
  • Does it support safe and healthy food? The bill support the production of fresh food that is free of excessive levels of hormones, antibiotics, pesticides, and herbicides. In Vermont specifically, the farm bill should support a dairy industry that does not use rbST, or advanced antibiotics that should be reserved for severe infections in humans.
  • Does it support increased food inspection, especially of imported food? Many recent deaths and the pet-food disaster point to an inspection system that is broken. The bill should increase funding for food inspectors and dramatically increase inspection of foods from countries which don't have good inspection systems, such as China.
  • Does it end support for grain-based ethanol programs? There is no clear evidence that grain-based ethanol has a positive net energy return, meaning that the fossil fuel energy used to produce the ethanol might as well be burned directly. Grain-based ethanol is pork, and always has been. Subsidies for grain-based ethanol also raises the costs of feed for Vermont's dairy farms, which is yet another reason to oppose these programs.
  • Does it end support for sugar subsidies? Not only does growing cane sugar in the Everglades hurt that wonderful habitat, the sugar subsidy (which is also a high-fructose corn syrup subsidy) makes many products in America cost more and taste much worse.

I am sure there are many issues related to the farm bill I have not touched on. If you and your staff are not familiar with them, I suggest you reach out to progressive farm and environment think tanks in Washington for more information. I am confident you will end up supporting a farm bill that is good for the environment, good for farmers, and good for consumers.

Thank you for your time.

No comments: