Not just a farm bill, but a food bill - Let's get it right

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Support for the farm bill collapsed because the suboptimal sellouts and compromises are barely enough to satisfy special interests, and shortchange the American people. One of the worst examples is the federal crop insurance program that reimburses 33% of the cost of administration, on average, for the sixteen companies allowed to offer this federally subsidized insurance. Since 2005, for every crop insurance dollar that goes to farmers, $1.44 has gone to crop insurance companies. The farm bill should reduce administrative costs, eliminate perverse incentives for farmers to engage in risky practices, and make insurance available to all farmers, including organic and multi-crop farms. The House bill fails on all counts and could even make it worse.
 
An acceptable farm bill must reform our expensive and inequitable payment system. In 2011, 10% of farming entities received over 75% of direct payments. 7 states received over 50% of all payments, but only produced 28% of the value of agricultural products. The other 43 states split the remaining 50% of payments, while producing 72% of the product. America simply cannot afford to lavish unnecessary subsidies on giant commodity producers while shortchanging small farmers. Both the House and Senate bills eliminate the direct payment system, but do little to implement limits on any of the other programs, ensuring that federal taxpayer dollars will continue to go to large agribusinesses that don’t need lavish federal support.
 
Most important, a farm bill must take positive steps to promote health and nutrition. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, makes up a huge part of the farm bill. Through improvements to SNAP and programs that encourage rural development and entrepreneurship, we can increase the number of people with access to nutrition education and improve access to fresh and locally grown food. Such investments are the right thing to do from an ethical and environmental standpoint, and could save countless taxpayer dollars in the future by combating obesity and Type II diabetes, while putting money in the pockets of family farmers.
 
The rush to pass any farm bill shows the power of special interests more interested in keeping the money than they are in meaningful reform and sound policy. This is a consequence of making it more profitable to “farm” the government than to farm the land.
 
The conventional wisdom is that Congress is not going to take any major legislative action with the uncertainty of the presidential election looming. That might be a good thing. While we don’t often agree, in this case I support Speaker Boehner’s suggestion that both the House and the Senate return to the drawing board. Let’s produce a farm bill for a sustainable and healthy future rather than a morass of wasted time, money, and opportunity.

Blumenauer is a member of the House Budget Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee.