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Forget the Farm Bill: Where We Should Set Our Sights This Year For Real Change

Focusing on the farm bill will use up endless resources and result in relatively little gain.

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What can be done now is movement building. The sustainable food movement can set its sights on a vision it wants to see accomplished in a future farm bill, maybe ten or twenty years from now, and it can begin to gain support for that vision. This seems to be the direction that organizations like Food and Water Watch and the National Family Farm Coalition are moving in. The current Congress won't pass a radically different farm bill, but using the current farm bill to start a conversation about what should be done in the future is a good idea.

In order to reach a time when Congress might pass a better farm bill, we need a better Congress -- and a better Ag Committee. We also need a better campaign finance system, because in our post-Citizens United world, agribusiness can write unlimited checks to Ag Committee legislators. A first step toward a better farm bill is a limit or ban on corporate funding of elections. A second step is electing legislators who favor sustainable agriculture, and seeing to it that they are appointed to the Ag Committee.

What You Should Watch in the 2012 Farm Bill

There is one good reason to pay some attention to the 2012 farm bill. While major changes in the direction of sustainability are not likely, major changes in the opposite direction are. Conservation programs in particular are on the chopping block. And in the 2002 farm bill, Congress did not get rid of the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, one of the farm bill conservation programs, but it did change the rules to allow "factory farms" to qualify for federal conservation dollars.

Thus, sustainable agriculture interests cannot completely ignore the 2012 farm bill. But they might put their staff, time, energy, and money to better use if they simply try to stave off the worst changes going into the farm bill and simultaneously work toward other efforts that are more likely to pay off.

Jill Richardson is the founder of the blog La Vida Locavore and a member of the Organic Consumers Association policy advisory board. She is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It. .

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