Thursday, July 19, 2007

Farm Bill time

Within the last several years that I've been living back in the U.S. as an ex-expat, I've discovered the simple pleasure of calling my representatives in Washington, and more recently, in New York. There is so much about the current governance of our country that does violence to my beliefs that if nothing else, calling up my elected officials and telling them that I'm cranked up or pissed off about something makes me feel slightly less powerless. It's amazingly easy to make an impact; when in D.C. for a few days last summer, I stopped by my House Representative's office, and the intern behind the desk claimed to recognize my name. The other day, when I called up my State Senator to register my disgust that a) the Democratic majority had failed to pass a congestion pricing measure in time to receive much-needed federal funds for public transportation and b) said SS had attributed the problem to Mayor Bloomberg's failure to adopt an "ingratiating" posture, I was pleased to hear from the haggard-sounding woman who took my call that the phone had been ringing off the hook.

If you'd like to try it out yourself, let me just remind you that every five years Farm Bill time rolls around, and that this is the week. The politics of food production are intimately involved in all kinds of commonly held concerns, including environmental protection, health, energy independence, trade deficits, labor rights, immigration, and social justice. Phone calls and letters have already helped remove a measure from an earlier draft of the current bill that was intended to preempt state laws or regulations beyond those mandated at the federal level. Here are some of the current provisions you could weigh in on with your Representative, particularly if s/he is on the House Agriculture Committee:
  • an amendment by Representative Goodlatte (R-VA) would gut COOL (country of origin labeling) mandates, making these voluntary and restricting them to the 20 most commonly consumed fruits and vegetables, capping potential fines at $1,000, and defining imported animals as domestic unless they did not pass Go and went straight to the slaughterhouse
  • in happier news, other amendments support:
    • organic conversion assistance (Rep. Gillibrand, D-NY)
    • "fair share" of USDA-ARS funding for organic research (Rep. Kagen, D-WI)
    • mandatory funding for organic research (Rep. Cardoza, D-CA
  • you could also express your views, among other issues, on:
    • increased funding for the Food Stamp and Nutrition program
    • mandatory funding for the Community Food Project Grant Program, the Organic Research and Extension program, the Fruit and Vegetable Snack Program and the Healthy Enterprise Development Program that would help small and mid-sized farmers distribute their products to local markets
    • changes to the Conservation Security Program to make it easier for organic producers to participate and receive on-going financial assistance rewarding the implementation of conservation practices on their farms
    • crop insurance equity, leveling the playing field for organic farmers who currently must pay a 5% surcharge on their crop insurance rates but are typically reimbursed for their losses according to conventional prices that don't take the greater value of their products into account
For more information or to sign and send a pre-fab letter instead, click here. To get contact information for your elected officials in Washington, click here.

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