Blumenauer releases alternative farm bill
Pollan gives contradictory impression on farm bill activism
Michael Pollan, the author of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and a journalism professor at the University of California at Berkeley, promised to be an activist on the next farm bill, but also seemed uncertain in that role.
At a news conference with Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., the author of an alternative farm bill, and other House members, Pollan said he is being transformed “from a journalist on these issues to more of an advocate.”
In the past, Pollan said, the food movement has gotten only “crumbs” in farm bills, and that farm policy needs to be rewritten “from the ground up.”
In a presentation at a seminar attended by congressional staff, Pollan said it makes no sense that a bunch of carrots costs more than a Twinkie, which is complicated to make. The reason for the price difference, Pollan said, is that the farm bill does very little for fruits and vegetables but subsidizes the production of corn and other ingredients in snack cakes.
He said an “active imagination” is needed to write a farm bill that will integrate health and environmental issues into it. But when it came to writing that bill or organizing people to pass it, Pollan deferred to others.
In reference to the content of the bill, Pollan said “I’m dreaming here” and that other people in the room — presumably congressional staff — could figure out it.
Asked how to get “eaters” to the farm bill table, Pollan said he does it through writing and lecturing, but he added “It will take political leadership ... I don’t think eaters even think about the farm bill right now. That’s the challenge.”
Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., released his alternative farm bill on Nov. 16 at a news conference and seminar with Michael Pollan, the author of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and other books that have been critical of the current U.S. food system.
At the news conference, Blumenauer, who has been an advocate for fruits and vegetables and organic and local food in previous farm bill debates, said he believed it was a mistake “going for small changes” and this time decided to introduce a comprehensive farm bill covering all the titles of the 2014 bill and adding titles focused on food waste and animal welfare.
Blumenauer’s bill would eliminate the two main crop subsidy programs, the Agricultural Risk Coverage and the Price Loss Coverage program, as well as conservation spending on confined animal feeding operations, in favor of more money for organic and local production and research benefiting smaller farms.
Blumenauer maintained all kinds of Oregon farmers are behind his bill, and Blake Rowe, CEO of the Oregon Wheat Growers League, told The Hagstrom Report in an email on Nov. 16 he attended a meeting in Portland at which Blumenauer presented his “approach” to the farm bill.
“To be polite, we all told him we appreciated the chance to meet, but we didn’t support his proposals,” Rowe said. “I can’t think of a single thing we told him that found its way into his proposal, which isn’t surprising since it was already printed and bound with a nice colorful cover.”
Blumenauer was joined at the news conference outside the Capitol by several Democratic House members who endorsed his bill and have agendas of their own, as well as by Pollan and leaders of groups who are critical of the current farm bill.
Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, who owns an organic farm and an inn, said she was endorsing Blumenauer’s bill because “We need a complete overhaul.”
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., said she is “a city girl” who was “an invasive specie” when then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., appointed her as a conferee on the 2008 farm bill to look after nutrition interests.
DeLauro said President Donald Trump’s administration “wants to unravel the social safety net” and she will work to protect it. DeLauro said crop insurance and subsidy programs could be cut to increase nutrition spending.
To her points, Blumenauer said if there are going to be drug tests for beneficiaries of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, they should start with tests for “the overuse of antibiotics” in animals.
Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, talked about her bill to help urban agriculture, and said the energy title of the bill should promote manure management and address the pollution problems in Lake Erie.
Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., said rural voters had supported Trump because they have experienced “the hollowing out” of rural America and that the next farm bill should aid “the intensification of local production.”
Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., noted he was U.S. ambassador to Switzerland where he saw 75,000 family farms and no factory farms. The next farm bill should address the “prohibitive” cost of farmland by funding conservation easements, he said.
Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, said the effort behind Blumenauer’s bill is “about taking a holistic approach” that includes the health system and the environment.
Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of The United States, noted that 9 billion farm animals are raised and slaughtered in the United States each year, and said the farm bill should address their treatment.
Pacelle also criticized the Trump administration for pulling back the organic livestock and poultry regulation and criticized Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, for opposing animal welfare legislation at both the federal and the state level.
Monica Mills, executive director of Food Policy Action, which rates members of Congress on how they vote on agriculture and food legislation, said her group has been active in the states, with chefs expressing their opinions of members’ voting records.
Ryan Alexander, president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, which has been critical of the spending levels in past farm bills, said Blumenauer’s bill would result in a “better but shallower safety net.”
In a news release issued after the press conference and a seminar attended by about 100 congressional aides, Blumenauer said, “For the sake of our farmers, planet, fiscal sanity and our health, we can’t afford to continue the status quo.
“We saw firsthand today that there is a growing movement to improve our food and farm policy for all Americans. It’s time Congress pays attention to what the people want and reforms the farm bill now.”
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Colorado Gov. Jared Polis is expected to sign SB 21-87, known as the Farm Workers Bill of Rights, though much of the content will be decided through the rulemaking process.