As the fate of the 2012 farm bill dangles in the lame duck session of Congress, you might want to familiarize yourself with the bill and its ripple effects, which range far beyond the mental image conjured by the term “farm.”
Also known as the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012, the bill which was passed by the Senate in June is part of an every-five-years overhaul of the United States’ agricultural policy.
As this PBS NewsHour interview points out, the bill is dominated by spending for programs far removed from the cultivation of foodstuffs; in fact most reports say 80 percent of the spending allocated by the bill — some $400 billion — is aimed at funding the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as SNAP, or food stamps. Various counterproposals in the House have suggested cuts to SNAP ranging from about $15 billion to $30 billion.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities says proposed House cuts would toss 2 million to 3 million Americans off the SNAP program, as well as reducing school lunch eligibility (tied to SNAP eligibility) for nearly 300,000 children. And here’s a report from the progressive-leaning Center for American Progress that provides more projected numbers (it says the cuts would trim $90 a month from 500,000 household food budgets, for example) and links to advocacy groups and other resources.
In addition to the human toll, that’s a lot of dough to the food processing, retailing and service industries, and you can be sure that intense lobbying efforts are afoot from these industries as well as advocates for the poor. A look at which companies and industries in your region benefit from SNAP spending, and how they are weighing in on farm bill negotiations, would be an interesting business tie to this huge piece of lawmaking.
It’s a truly vast constituency and one that could absorb a reporter full-time. Since that’s likely not possible for you, cut to the chase by checking in with trade groups for food producers, food processors, retailers and even food service vendors who might be affected by cuts to school meal programs.
Can individual firms quantify the effect of reduced SNAP payouts on their annual business, and what are trade organizations like the Food Marketing Institute and commodities groups doing to lobby Washington? (Check the 2008 lobbying report by Food&WaterWatch for hints about what to ask this time around, as well as the agriculture lobbying channel on OpenSecrets.org.)
To help you understand changes to the law, here’s a side-by-side comparison of the 2008 bill and the proposed 2012 legislation, by the National Agricultural Law Center.
Do you cover transportation or logistics? Here’s an interesting article from Hog Farmer Today which says the Sept. 30 expiration of the 2008 farm bill has curbed activities at the USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service, which promotes and helps market U.S. agricultural products — including meat — overseas. (Who knew?) It might be interesting to locate some food importer/exporters, or even the shipping companies that specialize in sending American perishable products abroad; what are their concerns regarding the new bill, and how are they faring in the lame duck period?