Last week’s 33rd Annual Eco-Farm Conference, primarily an information-feast for organic farmers, included sessions of relevance for home gardeners and others who buy groceries, i.e., everybody.
The conference included eight-to-twelve workshop sessions at a time, so one can’t attend all sessions of interest. I sat in on sessions on public policies relating to farming. These sessions included updates about the federal farm bill and the GM labeling initiative that Californians voted on in November of 2012 (and did not pass).
Every five years, Congress reviews, revises and updates the farm bill, which is the federal government’s primary tool for agricultural and food policy. This omnibus bill addresses a wide range of matters under the purview of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, including for example, food stamps, food safety, direct payments (subsidies) to farmers, crop insurance, and many other programs. The most recent farm bill, called the Food, Conversation and Energy Act of 2008, authorized $288 billion in federal expenditures. By any measure, the farm bill is major legislation.
The farm bill was to be renewed for 2013, but it became caught up in Washington’s current debate over the fiscal cliff. Congress couldn’t completely ignore these important policies, so it approved a nine-month extension.
Congress extended—but did not fund—several relatively small programs that support progressive agriculture: one that defrays some costs for farmers who convert to organic, one that helps communities launch farmer’s markets, one that funds research on organic farming, and one that helps minority farmers. Still, Congress approved $5 billion for farm subsidies, even though the agricultural lobby had agreed to their elimination. Go figure.
The organic farming community hopes for approval of funding for progressive agricultural programs, and even a modest increase of support. Both optimists and pessimists were at the conference.
The GM labeling initiative would have required food producers to label products that contain genetically modified foods. Consumers supported the initiative strongly, but major food producers and agricultural chemical companies spent lavishly in opposition and the initiative failed by small margin. The supporters of GM labeling are already planning another initiative and confident in its eventual success. Many other states are pursuing legislation or initiatives to require GM labeling.
A potential issue in this campaign is the casual use of both “genetic modification” and “genetic engineering” to mean the same. Meanwhile, some commentators insist that GM includes natural and human-controlled hybridization, a constructive practice that has been followed for centuries. Voters respond badly to ambiguity!
The unique Eco-Farm Conference attracts farmers and other advocates of organic farming and gardening from throughout the United States. It provides great distinction for the Monterey Bay area.
Interesting article: The Threats from Genetically Modified Foods
Grocery shopping advice: How to Avoid Genetically Modified Food – Real Food
Lots of information on GMOs and the labeling initiative is on the website of labelgmos.org.
The farm bill is controversial in several respects. Click here for Wikipedia’s relatively neutral article on the farm bill. To follow the debate, read the newspapers!