Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

Farm Bill a Mixed Bag of Disappointments and Hopes

Farm Bill a Mixed Bag of Disappointments and Hopes

Pesticide Action Network

By Margaret Reeves

With last month’s death of the congressional Super Committee, so too died the 2011 Food and Farm Bill proposal that was folded into those fast-track talks. So what happens next?

A mixed bag of disappointments and glimmers of hope, the 2011 proposal now enters into the more normal process of policy development. Because of the tireless efforts of National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition members and many organizations around the country, this starting point for the 2012-13 Food and Farm Bill does contain some elements of our priorities—namely, support for conservation, local food, beginning farmers and organics.

2012 Funding Cuts Already Decided

It's basically a good thing that on Nov. 18 Congress agreed on agricultural funding (appropriations) ahead of and separate from the big omnibus funding bill that will consume most of legislators' time in December. But the spending bill includes some major disappointments.

Funds for 2012 include $19.8 billion in discretionary spending, which is $350 million less than last year and $2.5 billion below President Barack Obama’s request. More than $927 million was cut from mandatory conservation, on top of the $500 million already cut in 2011.

Overall, conservation and renewable energy were the primary losers, while commodity, crop insurance, export subsidies and food stamps were left untouched.

Deep Cuts to Conservation Programs

One of our favorite programs, the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) was cut by $75.5 million, which will reduce by 30 percent the number of acres receiving support for innovative conservation practices. This is a tremendous loss.

CSP funds help farmers and ranchers manage, improve and increase conservation activities that result in environmental benefits on working land.

The scope and impact of the program has been tremendous. Last year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture committed more than $191 million a year (in five-year contracts) to enroll 12.75 million new acres in 9,630 contracts across 49 states. Resource conservation priorities include protection of soil, water, air and wildlife habitat, including Resource-Conserving Crop Rotations that build soil quality and reduce chemical use.

Other unfortunate conservation program cuts include:

  • 20 percent cut to the Environmental Quality Incentives Program ($350 million)
  • 32 percent cut to the Wetlands Reserve Program and 25 percent to the Grasslands Reserve Program ($200 million and $30 million, respectively)
  • 25 percent cut from the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program and 41 percent from the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program ($50 million and $35 million, respectively)

Another travesty buried in the funding bill was a decision on fair competition and contracts regarding livestock and poultry known as the Grain Inspection, Packers & Stockyards Administration rule, or GIPSA rule. Among other failings, the final funding bill puts the burden on farmers to prove injury from unfair competition by packers and processors, without clearly definining what this means.

Good examples of these unfair practices were eloquently described in the 2009 documentary feature film, Food Inc., and in a Civil Eats blog describing how just four companies control more than 80 percent of the U.S. meat market.

A Glimmer of Good News

In recent weeks we saw the introduction of three good bills, all intended for inclusion in the 2012 Food and Farm bill.

  • The Growing Opportunities for Agriculture and Responding to Markets (GO FARM) Act of 2011, introduced by Sens. Robert Casey (D-PA) and Tom Harkin (D-IA), would establish a revolving loan program to support local farms and market gardens, helping to create agricultural jobs by connecting small farms with local markets.
  • The Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act, introduced by Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), would help farmers and ranchers engage in local and regional agriculture by addressing production, aggregation, processing, marketing and distribution needs. It would also assist consumers by improving access to healthy food.
  • The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act was introduced in the House by Representatives Tim Walz (D-MN) and Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), and in the Senate by Sen. Harkin. This bill would support economic opportunities for young and beginning farmers and ranchers.

Looking Ahead

We still don’t know whether this will end up being a 2012 or a 2013 Food and Farm bill. But we do know there will be further cuts proposed in subsequent appropriations bills, and that large-scale, well-coordinated, multi-sector public input will be vital in order to ensure that we get the most farmer-friendly and ecologically sane bill possible.

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition has developed a detailed analysis of the Super Committee kerfuffle and what lies ahead.

Here in California and across the country, Pesticide Action Network will remain engaged with partners and supporters to advocate for programs that promise to protect rural communities, family farmers and the health and well-being of those who work on farms and consume farm products.

For more information, click here.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Once the virus escapes into the air inside a building, you have two options: bring in fresh air from outside or remove the virus from the air inside the building. Halfpoint Images / Getty Images

By Shelly Miller

The vast majority of SARS-CoV-2 transmission occurs indoors, most of it from the inhalation of airborne particles that contain the coronavirus. The best way to prevent the virus from spreading in a home or business would be to simply keep infected people away. But this is hard to do when an estimated 40% of cases are asymptomatic and asymptomatic people can still spread the coronavirus to others.

Read More Show Less
California Senator Kamala Harris endorses Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden at a campaign rally at Renaissance High School in Detroit, Michigan on March 9, 2020. JEFF KOWALSKY / AFP via Getty Images

Former Vice President Joe Biden made a historic announcement Tuesday when he named California Senator Kamala Harris as his running mate in the 2020 presidential election.

Read More Show Less
An aerial view taken on August 8, 2020 shows a large patch of leaked oil from the MV Wakashio off the coast of Mauritius. STRINGER / AFP / Getty Images

The tiny island nation of Mauritius, known for its turquoise waters, vibrant corals and diverse ecosystem, is in the midst of an environmental catastrophe after a Japanese cargo ship struck a reef off the country's coast two weeks ago. That ship, which is still intact, has since leaked more than 1,000 metric tons of oil into the Indian Ocean. Now, a greater threat looms, as a growing crack in the ship's hull might cause the ship to split in two and release the rest of the ship's oil into the water, NPR reported.

On Friday, Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth declared a state of environmental emergency.

France has sent a military aircraft carrying pollution control equipment from the nearby island of Reunion to help mitigate the disaster. Additionally, Japan has sent a six-member team to assist as well, the BBC reported.

The teams are working to pump out the remaining oil from the ship, which was believed to be carrying 4,000 metric tons of fuel.

"We are expecting the worst," Mauritian Wildlife Foundation manager Jean Hugues Gardenne said on Monday, The Weather Channel reported. "The ship is showing really big, big cracks. We believe it will break into two at any time, at the maximum within two days. So much oil remains in the ship, so the disaster could become much worse. It's important to remove as much oil as possible. Helicopters are taking out the fuel little by little, ton by ton."

Sunil Dowarkasing, a former strategist for Greenpeace International and former member of parliament in Mauritius, told CNN that the ship contains three oil tanks. The one that ruptured has stopped leaking oil, giving disaster crews time to use a tanker and salvage teams to remove oil from the other two tanks before the ship splits.

By the end of Tuesday, the crew had removed over 1,000 metric tons of oil from the ship, NPR reported, leaving about 1,800 metric tons of oil and diesel, according to the company that owns the ship. So far the frantic efforts are paying off. Earlier today, a local police chief told BBC that there were still 700 metric tons aboard the ship.

The oil spill has already killed marine animals and turned the turquoise water black. It's also threatening the long-term viability of the country's coral reefs, lagoons and shoreline, NBC News reported.

"We are starting to see dead fish. We are starting to see animals like crabs covered in oil, we are starting to see seabirds covered in oil, including some which could not be rescued," said Vikash Tatayah, conservation director at Mauritius Wildlife Foundation, according to The Weather Channel.

While the Mauritian authorities have asked residents to leave the clean-up to officials, locals have organized to help.

"People have realized that they need to take things into their hands. We are here to protect our fauna and flora," environmental activist Ashok Subron said in an AFP story.

Reuters reported that sugar cane leaves, plastic bottles and human hair donated by locals are being sewn into makeshift booms.

Human hair absorbs oil, but not water, so scientists have long suggested it as a material to contain oil spills, Gizmodo reported. Mauritians are currently collecting as much human hair as possible to contribute to the booms, which consist of tubes and nets that float on the water to trap the oil.

A northern mockingbird on June 24, 2016. Renee Grayson / CC BY 2.0

Environmentalists and ornithologists found a friend in a federal court on Tuesday when a judge struck down a Trump administration attempt to allow polluters to kill birds without repercussions through rewriting the Migratory Treaty Bird Act (MBTA).

Read More Show Less
A spiny dogfish shark swims in the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary off the coast of Washington. NOAA / Wikimedia Commons

By Elizabeth Claire Alberts

There are trillions of microplastics in the ocean — they bob on the surface, float through the water column, and accumulate in clusters on the seafloor. With plastic being so ubiquitous, it's inevitable that marine organisms, such as sharks, will ingest them.

Read More Show Less
A "vessel of opportunity" skims oil spilled after the Deepwater Horizon well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010. NOAA / Flickr / CC by 2.0

By Loveday Wright and Stuart Braun

After a Japanese-owned oil tanker struck a reef off Mauritius on July 25, a prolonged period of inaction is threatening to become an ecological disaster.

Read More Show Less

Trending

The Mountain Valley Pipeline proposes to carry natural gas for hundreds of miles over dozens of water sources, through protected areas and crossing the Appalachian Trail. Appalachian Trail Conservancy / YouTube

It's been a bad summer for fracked natural gas pipelines in North Carolina.

Read More Show Less