So much more than farms
Approximately every five years, the Food, Conservation and Energy Act is debated, amended and passed by Congress. Most commonly referred to as the “Farm Bill,” the 2008 version included over 1,700 pages of laws, programs and funding directives. It will cost tax payers an estimated $403.6 billion.
For all the billions of dollars that are distributed because of this bill and the very serious issues covered by this bill—energy policy, food stamp programs, water pollution and school nutrition programs—why don’t the general public and mainstream media pay more attention?
It’s a branding issue.
Because the bill is known in Congress, the media and the general public as the “Farm Bill,” non-farmers don’t realize the incredible impact this bill has on our daily lives. Although you wouldn’t know it from its popular name, the bill is about much more than agricultural policy. In fact, only about 20% of the bill’s total cost is specifically farm-related. But even that 20% of the legislation seriously impacts the health, food and environment of the entire country, not just farmers.
Calling it the “Farm Bill” keeps the majority of Americans out of the debate, which is good for special agricultural interests like factory farms, but bad for the rest of us. By renaming it the “Food Bill,” we can change the public debate, and hopefully the lasting effects, of this massive legislation.
Changing the public debate could increase the number of people who are interested in the bill and take action to convince decision-makers to significantly transform how this bill affects our food and environment. The current language that is used to discuss the “Food Bill” works against environmental and food safety interests. We can change that rhetoric by renaming the bill and
- centering messages around widely held values, like concern for quality of life and children’s future. Messages should explain why everyone should care about the impacts of this bill, not just farmers.
- connecting this federal legislation to every day concerns. Massive, expensive legislation can seem too big and inevitable for individual people to feel like they can make a difference. Framing the debate in every day concerns, like childhood obesity and polluted drinking water, brings the bill into our homes and kitchens.
- providing a solution and personal actions. Emphasizing the ways we can alter the “Food Bill” and providing simple, specific actions that individuals can take will make the immense problem seem solvable.
Every five years, the “Food Bill” is revised by a very small group of powerful committee members in the U.S. House and Senate. With very little input from other members of Congress, and even less from the general public, these committee members make serious decisions that have great and lasting impacts on our health, economy and environment.
Because agricultural runoff is a leading cause of pollution in the Mississippi River and the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, the Mississippi River Network is dedicated to making the “Food Bill” more environmentally friendly. The Network, a coalition of 35 organizations dedicated to protecting the Mississippi River and managed by Biodiversity Project, is increasing public awareness, lobbying legislators and working with the Obama Administration to protect the food and environmental interests in this bill.
Changing the rhetoric that surrounds this bill in the public sphere could connect all citizens, not just the agricultural community, to this important legislative process. The $403.6 billion “Food Bill” is too important to leave solely in the hands of special agricultural interests.