Due to the stalling tactics of Senate Republicans, the 2007 Senate Farm Bill is languishing on the Senate floor. The Democrats have offered a bi-partisan version of the bill that has large agri-business firms and Republicans worried. It makes some limits (by no means enough limits, but some) on the amount of subsidies available for crops like corn, soybeans and wheat.
The fact of the matter is that it doesn't make sense for the government to be subsidizing crops we already make too much of. We have far too much corn, for example, and since we have so much it is processed into foods that make us both sick and fat. "Why is that twinkie cheaper than a root you pull out of the ground like a carrot?" Michael Pollan asked us when we interviewed him for our film.
The simple answer is subsidies from the farm bill. Why aren't we subsidizing the production of fruits and vegetables that don't require massive amounts of processing? An easy way to find the answer to that is to find out who profits and who uses those profits to buy elected officials. Companies like Kraft, General Mills, Pepsi and McDonalds can be found regularly in the halls of the House and Senate. (In fact, we even did a hidden camera interview with a Corporate Vice President of McDonalds…)
The Farm Bill doesn't just inform how much of which crops (or wrong crops) are grown for the purpose of junk food processing. It also informs what food our children eat at school.
Why is it, do you think, that the school lunch menus are filled with pizza, corn dogs and nachos? It's obviously not because these foods are nutritionally sound for our children. It's because there are such places as the National Frozen Pizza Institute or the Grocery Manufacturers Association who ensure that the nutritional standards for our children are so low that frosted pink cookies and ice cream ala carte qualify as part of a balanced lunch in our school cafeterias. And not only do taxpayers subsidize the production of the crops that make up the components of the pizza, taxpayers subsidize the manufacturing of it and then buy it and give it to our nations children.
The Farm Bill also sets the standard in nutrition for social welfare programs like WIC and Food Stamps. The way that the program is set up, it offers little to no incentive for healthy eating. It merely offers a meager dollar amount and tells those in need to figure out what to eat. Unfortunately, because of the subsidies of the Farm Bill the unhealthiest calories are the cheapest.
In their stalling, though, Senate Republicans have given us an opportunity to call and write our elected officials on both sides of the aisle and let them know that we want the Farm Bill to address these problems and that the needs of the people are, in fact, more important than the needs of industries and large farming conglomerates.
Subsidies should be going to local, organic farmers who need a hand through harsh winters, not giant farming conglomerates.
Nutrition standards in schools need to be established in a vacuum away from agricultural interests.
Food Stamps should be reorganized to offer more money for fresh fruits and vegetables and less on frozen or processed foods.
I don't have all the answers, but we should view this stalling as an opportunity to offer our input to fix a seriously flawed and broken system for the next five years when the Farm Bill is once more up for renewal.