The House Committee on Agriculture has set up a comment box for constituents to submit their feedback. It’s open to everyone, but comments must be in by this Sunday, May 20.
To be heard, send a message to Congress via the Comments Box at http://agriculture.house.gov/farmbill_feedback.html.
Below you will find some background information about the Farm Bill as it pertains to health, as well as a sample letter with information about the Farm Bill's effect on nutrition, hunger, support for farmers, and the environment. Sending a message to Congress is important, and it will only take a minute!
The Farm Bill and Our Health
What is the Farm Bill?
The Farm Bill originally was set up to help American farmers. However, over time, most of the subsidy payments to farmers went to commodity crops instead, with hardly any money going to support the growing of a variety of fruits and vegetables.
How can this affect our health?
The Farm Bill includes a number of different titles that influence our food system. Changes made to the Farm Bill over the past several decades have made healthy food more expensive and unhealthy food cheaper, pushing the price of fruits and vegetables up by nearly 40% over 15 years and pushing the price of soft drinks (made from processed corn) down by 23%. In addition, there is not currently enough farmland in the US devoted to growing fruits and vegetables for everyone to meet the US Dietary Guidelines of at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day.
A growing number of policymakers and public health professionals understand the relationships among agricultural policy, our food system and the public’s health, and even succeeded in making some minor advancements in the 2008 Farm Bill that supported both the public’s health and farmers. However, today’s budget challenges now threaten the funding levels and continuation of several of these achievements. In particular, the 2008 Farm Bill included a Healthy Food Provisions Package which included policies and programs supporting public health. Some of these programs, which successfully help improve access to healthy food for low-income communities, need to be expanded, not cut. These include:
· Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program - provides low-income seniors with coupons that can be exchanged for eligible foods (fruits, vegetables, honey, and fresh-cut herbs) at farmers’ markets, roadside stands, and community supported agriculture programs
· Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program - makes fruit and vegetable snacks available at no cost to all children in participating elementary schools
· Farmers’ Market Electronic Benefits Transfer Program – funds wireless EBT machines at farmers markets, which enables farmers markets to accept SNAP (food stamps)
· Healthy Urban Food Enterprise Development - provides grants to help the establishment of businesses that can increase access to healthy, affordable foods for underserved communities, while creating jobs
· Community Food Projects - addresses food insecurity through developing community food projects that help promote the self-sufficiency of low-income communities. Examples include innovative approaches to nutrition education, and support for farm-to-school programs.
· SNAP Nutrition Education Program (SNAP-Ed) – supports nutrition education for people eligible for SNAP, but was recently expanded to include individuals who reside in a community with a significant low-income population. Allowable nutrition education was recently expanded to include broader community and public health approaches to improve nutrition.
In addition, the WIC Farmer’s Market Nutrition Program – which provides women, infants and children enrolled in WIC with vouchers to use at farmer’s markets – has traditionally been funded through the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act, but should be put under the Farm Bill to protect it from cuts in the future.
And now, for a sample letter that you can send to Congress via the Comments Box at http://agriculture.house.gov/farmbill_feedback.html:
Preserve and expand funding for the Healthy Food Provisions Package which includes policies and programs supporting public health. These programs, which successfully help improve access to healthy food for low-income communities, include:
•Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program
•Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program
•Farmers’ Market Electronic Benefits Transfer Program
•Healthy Urban Food Enterprise Development
•Community Food Projects
•SNAP Nutrition Education Program (SNAP-Ed)
Place the WIC Farmer’s Market Nutrition Program under the Farm Bill instead of under Child Nutrition Reauthorization. This program promotes the consumption of produce by women, infants, and children enrolled in the WIC program while successfully creating a base of customers at farmer’s markets in low-income neighborhoods;
Support our fight against hunger by maintaining and strengthening critical nutrition programs in this time of unprecedented need. We must not solve our budget problems on the backs of those experiencing food insecurity, including our most vulnerable – our children, the elderly, and the disabled;
Provide an even "plowing" field by fully funding programs supporting beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers, organic farming, regional farming and food economies, and rural development. We need more farmers and ranchers, more sustainable food production, and more economic opportunity in our food system;
End direct payments and counter-cyclical commodity programs, replacing them with loophole-free agriculture risk coverage and implement a cap on crop insurance premium subsidies. We must support farmers that really need the help, not the biggest farms that don’t.
Eliminate the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) livestock set-aside to limit funds granted to concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) for waste management infrastructure and protect the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) from disproportionate cuts and improve it by ranking applications solely on their conservation benefits. We must ensure that limited conservation funding maximizes lasting environmental benefits.
Information compiled from the NYC Food and Farm Bill Working Group and the Center for a Livable Future's Growing Healthy Food & Farm Policy report in collaboration with NY Faith & Justice Farm Bill / food justice working groups