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Do Commodity Crops and GMOs Belong in the New Farm Bill?

February 24, 2012

Since most agriculture policy expires in September, it’s time for another farm bill— a variety of agricultural and food laws that that impact everything from food safety to how much your groceries cost.  While this could be good news for farmers who are happy with the current farm bill (which dates to 2008), not everyone’s excited about doing business as usual.

Why not? Although the most recent farm bill made some strides in favor of organic farming – it had provisions for "new programs and increased spending for horticulture and organic production" and "provided…mandatory funding for growth of farmers’ markets and for transitioning producers to organic production" – some feel these policies are outdated and don’t go far enough.

“The farm bill must shift from its focus…toward implementing best agricultural practices for sustainable and organic production methods, “ says David Murphy, the founder and executive director of Food Democracy Now. Murphy asserts that chemicals, commodity crop subsidies, and GMOs only hinder healthy food production and consumption, while organic solutions and small, independent farms are guaranteed to help future populations thrive—both physically and economically.

Murphy recommends some pretty bold measures, including an eight-year plan to make public school lunches organic, and a 13-year, $25 billion roadmap to sustain organic certifications for 75% of American farms.

Murphy’s far from the first to find fault with farm bill content, and he’s in good company; Michael Pollan has repeatedly taken the farm bill to task, as have members of the Senate. Among other issues, they criticize the overproduction of targeted crops for subsidies, how commodity crops affect the nutritional value of resulting consumer products, and the global impact of excessive single-crop farming. In the video below, Pollan explains how the farm bill makes the highly processed Twinkie cheaper than a simple carrot:

Is Murphy’s action plan viable? And will the House Agriculture Committee, the body that governs the farm bill, be swayed by an outcry for organics? It will be interesting to see how much impact Food Democracy Now (and other outspoken critics) has on the future of farming in the US.

What changes would you make to farm policy?