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Farm Bill: Hard For Californians To Digest?

November 5, 2007

California's two senators will have a chance to reveal exactly where they stand on the renewal of the U.S. Farm Bill, which is expected to be taken up by the U.S. Senate as early as today. The five-year, $288 billion bill would continue to pay out large subsidies to farmers who grow corn, cotton, wheat, rice and soybeans, which includes few California farmers.

Critics say the current system is outdated and promotes the types of foods that have contributed to the nation's obesity epidemic. Frank Tamborello, with the group Hunger Action Los Angeles, says at least some funding should go to California's smaller fruit and vegetable farmers.

"We need to shift the priority away from supporting huge agribusiness and unhealthy foods and shift it towards supporting our small farmers, our local farm infrastructure; toward nutritious foods like fruits and vegetables and toward ending hunger."

The Farm Bill also funds the federal Food Stamp program, which Tamborello says hasn't really changed in 30 years and averages about a dollar a meal for recipients. Heather Feeney, of the California Food and Justice Coalition, agrees the current Farm Bill plan is a lot of "business as usual," helping mega-farmers continue to get mega-payments. She, too, feels it's time for reforms that would help many Californians in need.

"California would actually get many more benefits from directing these funds into nutrition programs, small farm programs, and beginning farmer programs that help move food into communities, where it's needed."

An amendment is expected to be introduced which would cap commodity payments for large farms and reinvest money into other programs. Supporters of crop subsidies say they're needed to keep food prices down and help farmers stay in business.

Information about the organizations mentioned in this report is available online, at www.hungeractionla.org and www.CAFoodJustice.org

Lori Abbott/Craig Eicher, Public News Service - CA