Ag policy as if people mattered
Tom Philpott, Gristmill
The terms of debate around the 2007 farm bill's controversial commodity title have gotten rather narrow.
On the one hand, you've got the House subcommittee on ag commodities, which essentially cut and pasted commodity language from the subsidy-heavy 2002 farm bill into the 2007 version now being drafted.
On the other hand, you've got a chorus of critics, ranging from Oxfam to the Cato Institute to the Environmental Working Group, demanding an end to ag subsidies. This group would like to see an unfettered market work its magic on agriculture.
Straddling in between we find the Bush administration, which chastised the House subcommittee for failing to reform subsidies. Last winter, USDA chief Mike Johanns floated his proposal, which wouldn't abolish subsidies but rather tweak the program a bit to give it a "more market-oriented approach." Language in the proposal hinted strongly that subsidies would eventually be phased out.
Forced to choose, the Oxfams, Catos, and EWGs of the world throw their lot with the Bush Administration. If they can't get the subsidy-free bill they want, they'll take the Bushies' slow-motion reforms.
In last week's Victual Reality, I weighed in on the debate by rebuking the Oxfam/Cato/EWG aproach. I argued that "abandoning farmers to the clutches of a highly consolidated food-processing market ... won't solve our enormous social, public-health, and environmental troubles related to food."
I acknowledged that the subsidy system was a mess, but was vague about what I would put in its place. Several people asked me what kind of farm bill I'd like to see. Given the alternatives on the table, answering that question is a purely theoretical exercise. But here goes.
(24 June 2007)
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
Tom Philpoot, AG policy as if people mattered