In June 2007, Mia MacDonald’s Brighter Green and Gene Baur of Farm Sanctuary collaborated on a 28-page white paper that addressed the 2007 Farm Bill. We wanted to approach the paper from a holistic perspective: in other words, one that examined the issues of food security, environmental conservation, and animal welfare, and offer a vision of farming that respected the earth, local and organic agriculture, and the farming communities who have been decimated because of decades of decisions made by successive Congresses regarding who and what is funded.
We released a press and wrote an op-ed to accompany the white paper, which was covered on four TV and radio stations, numerous newspapers and journals—including the Dallas Morning News, Los Angeles Times, Sacramento Business Journal, and elsewhere. Five news services picked it up, as did four websites, including AOL Money News and Yahoo! Politics. These now follow:
Congress to Receive Animal Welfare and Environmental Recommendations in Landmark Farm Bill White Paper that Challenges Cruelty, Waste and Corruption
Groups Collaborate to Promote Sustainable Alternatives to Abuse and Irresponsible Agricultural Practices
Watkins Glen, NY and New York, NY – June 27, 2007 – For the first time in history, the concerns of animal advocates will be brought to light in explicit detail, as part of a white paper urging major revisions to the 2007 Farm Bill.
Co-published by Farm Sanctuary, the nation’s leading farm animal protection organization, and Brighter Green, an environmental policy “think tank” organization focusing on equity, sustainability and rights, the white paper provides a comprehensive set of proposals for the federal government and Congress concerning industrial agriculture and food production. It tackles provisions in the Farm Bill that violate the Constitution, put communities at risk, and turn a blind eye to ethical, economic and environmental realities.
Farm Sanctuary President, Gene Baur, said the Farm Bill white paper illustrates the beginning of a broad coming together for environmental, animal rights and human rights organizations, all stakeholders in creating a sustainable, compassionate and economically viable future.
“This is a galvanizing time for individuals and organizations that care about the parallel issues of human rights, environmental stewardship, consumer choice, and animal protection,” Baur said. “We offer a new vision for our nation that rejects gratuitous cruelty, environmental degradation, destruction of rural communities and the human health risks that come with industrialized animal production. Our white paper brings much needed sanity to agricultural policy in the U.S., by proposing reforms that encourage compassionate, healthy, sustainable practices – while current policy promotes just the opposite.”
A big-picture approach with many practical details on reforming current farming practices, the paper addresses the multiplicity of interconnected issues, including poverty, human health and good nutrition, organic agriculture, animal well being, trade, corporate accountability, and environmental stewardship.
“With this paper, Farm Sanctuary and Brighter Green illustrate how crucial the Farm Bill is to the way we live,” said Brighter Green Executive Director, Mia MacDonald. “Current farm policy is seriously out of step with economic, political and environmental reality. It ensures a steady supply of unhealthy food heavily subsidized by tax payers and derived from environmentally destructive farming practices. Revised, the Farm Bill could help promote healthy, humane eating for all Americans. It could also ensure healthy communities, conservation of habitat and wildlife, and animal welfare. These goals are within reach. Together, we can help our government get its priorities and polices right.”
Baur added, “Members of Congress will no longer get away with ignoring the concerns and needs of communities and citizens for the sake of corporate factory farming’s short-term profits. This most costly and egregious case of corporate welfare is in its final throes, and individuals stuck on the status quo better start thinking about other options, because Americans won’t be cheated much longer.”
A New Vision for Food, Farming and Agriculture
By Gene Baur and Mia MacDonald
Traditionally, summer is when farmers reap the harvest from the land. This summer there’s been a different kind of harvesting going on, far from the fields. Agribusiness has been “farming the government” by seeking billions of dollars in subsidies from Congress through the 2007 Farm Bill. In bars and backrooms near the U.S. Capitol, lobbyists have pushed for the same policies—and payouts—that have destroyed family farms, harmed the environment, threatened consumer health, and subjected billions of farm animals to intolerable cruelty. If ultimately they succeed, the harvest will be bitter, and not just for farmers.
What’s in the farm bill influences how our food is produced and what we eat. It determines the shape of rural communities, and the quality of our water and air. Its provisions have a crucial impact on whether Americans live in vibrant food sheds or barren food deserts, and influence our health as individuals and as a nation.
One thing is certain: this year’s bill will be the last hurrah for corporate agribusiness. Public tolerance for huge farm subsidies is waning, while awareness of the downsides of the standard American diet is increasing. Concern is growing about conditions for billions of farmed animals and how U.S. crop subsidies affect poor farmers overseas. And on a host of environmental measures—from climate change to loss of topsoil and runoff of chemical residues and wastes to destruction of watersheds—current farm policy simply isn’t sustainable.
Over the past generation, farm bills have catered to the interests of a small slice of the farming community—large industrial operations. Each year billions of dollars in subsidies are provided to producers of just a few crops, namely wheat, corn, grain, sorghum, barley, oats, cotton, rice, soybeans and other oilseeds. Much of the harvest is converted into cheap food for farmed animals or corn syrup, a near-ubiquitous sweetener for food and drinks.
Only about one–third of America’s farmers grow crops eligible for traditional farm subsidies. The rest, including 90 percent of minority farmers, who produce fruits, vegetables, and other products, receive no assistance at all.
What ends up on our plates is also a result of farm policy. Diets high in sugars and animal fats have led to rising levels of obesity as well as chronic conditions like heart disease, diabetes and some cancers. Americans spend $110 billion on low-cost fast food every year, its low price made possible by farm bill subsidies. But more is spent treating obesity-related health conditions: $117 billion a year, according to the American Heart Association.
As the agriculture sector has consolidated, rural communities have been depopulated. The loss of small farms has coincided with an increase of large, corporate operations that raise and slaughter thousands, even millions, of cows, pigs, and chickens every year.
These “factory farms” release enormous amounts of waste and toxins into the air (the stench can be extreme and is often unavoidable) and water, and contribute significantly to global warming. The animals are kept in cramped, indoor quarters without the ability to move freely or express their natural behaviors.
In the face of these realities, many environmentalists, anti-poverty groups, nutrition experts, mothers, faith communities, and advocates for the poor, immigrants and farmed animals, among others, have begun to question the assumptions of U.S. farm policy. What they and we envision is legislation that:
Before Congress’ August recess, the House of Representatives passed a farm bill that’s more or less business as usual. Some senators are vowing big changes when they return to Washington in September. Even President Bush wants more reform. Half measures won’t fix what’s wrong with the farm bill. It’s time Congress got at the roots—as good farmers do—and coaxed solutions from the ground up.