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Devil in Details of Farm Bill

February 18, 2008

Washington, DC – The current Farm Bill is set to expire March 15, but work on its replacement is bogged down in Congress, as President Bush has threatened to veto any new Farm Bill that exceeds his spending goals. House Agriculture Committee Chairman, Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minnesota), has reportedly offered some new proposals to break the logjam, but the details have not been released.

Jim Lyons with Oxfam, an international relief and development agency, is concerned that increases for the nutrition programs in the legislation will be given up, in favor of big subsidies for mega-farmers.

"We have an economy that's potentially entering a recession and we are going to see more people using these programs, and frankly, the food stamp and nutrition programs are having a difficult time serving the people currently in need."

Lyons suspects that the failure to reach a deal on a new Farm Bill has to do with keeping subsidies for large-scale farmers, who are doing well financially with current commodity prices, instead of working on real subsidy reforms.

"Part of what is being done here is an attempt to lock in a subsidy program for the major commodities, while the climate is more conducive than it will be at some point in the future."

In Lyons' view, when a small percentage of wealthy farmers receive the majority of subsidies, it will mean less money to provide assistance to others, including minority-owned and small, family-owned farms, and the conservation programs that benefit all farmers.

Dick Layman/Eric Mack, Public News Service - IA