The following article was written by Christopher Bedford (see biographical information below). Chris is never one to pull punches, and as with all of our guest posts, his opinions don’t necessarily represent those of beginningfarmers.org or it’s administrators. But whatever side of these controversies you find yourself on, I am sure the issues he tackles in this writing will fire you up. So please send in your comments.
In Florida, State Senator Jim Norman has introduced SB 1246 to make “photographing farming activities from the air or from a roadside” a First Degree Felony, punishable with up to 30 years in prison. This bill has the support of the Florida Farm Bureau and its 140,000 members statewide.
The new Florida state government — all Republican — with Rick Scott as Governor and a 70% majority in the State Senate and a 67.5% majority in the State House of Representatives — took power last Thursday (March 10th). This means if Republicans can agree on a piece of legislation, it will be law unless it can be proven through the courts to be unconstitutional (a lengthy process).
Sen. Norman’s proposed legislation could have put the film makers of “Food, Inc.” in jail.
This development (perhaps part of a larger American Legislative Exchange Council ALEC initiative) in and of itself does not signal the end of anything.
But proposals like this one and Michigan’s HB 4306 (which mandates privatization of non-classroom school functions including food service) should be seen in the context of the larger push back against the local food revolution that is discussed on this list serv and that will be at the heart of the Farm Bill 2012 debate.
Agribusiness advocates in the US House and Senate will face something of a dilemma in the renewed Farm Bill legislation. Some of the new Tea Party like Representatives are true libertarians with long opposition to government subsidies in agriculture. The Cato Institute has been one of the leading opponents of ethanol subsidies for more than a decade.
Hypothetically, these libertarian Republicans could join with Democrats to defeat continuing subsidies — witness the ad hoc bipartisan coalition that defeated the alternative engine for F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The actual creation of such a coalition is pretty speculative, given the power of industrial agriculture in both parties.
But there is one area of potential agreement that might fundamentally alter the Farm Bill’s dictates.
In the name of balancing the federal budget, states could be required to implement the “efficiencies of private commerce” in school meal programs and to institute protections like the Florida bill of food producers (also in the name of Homeland Security). In other words, the extreme proposals of ALEC could offer a political way out for most sides in the Farm Bill debate.
As we enter the Farm Bill process, we should be looking at ALEC’s proposed legislation AND the passage of bills like Florida’s SB 1246 and Michigan’s HB 4306 as political signals for what is to come.
I personally believe we should pursue a “building healthy soil” strategy in the Farm Bill. I think most consumers understand Robert Rodale’s old dictum, “Healthy soil. Healthy plants. Healthy people.” If we view all Farm Bill programs through this lens, we can’t go wrong.
Center for Economic Security