House fails to deliver Farm Bill reform

By Oxfam

BOSTON, MA — As the House of Representatives passed the 2007 Farm Bill, Raymond C. Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America, made the following statement:

“Franklin Roosevelt is probably turning in his grave as he looks down at the House debate on the Farm Bill. Under the guise of saving the family farm, Democrats and Republicans have turned the farm safety net into a slop bucket for American corporate welfare. Mr. Roosevelt would probably be even more appalled to see House leaders trying to pass off their failure to muster political will as genuine reform of American farm policy. In truth, House members produced a bill that sprinkles enough money across the landscape to secure the needed votes to pass their Farm Bill while dodging the bullet on the kinds of deep and serious reform that is called for. In short, the leadership of both parties failed to deliver when faced with a real opportunity to provide a 21st century vision for American agriculture and rural stewardship.

“The House Farm Bill makes minimal progress for nutrition, conservation, and rural development programs but ignores the rare opportunity to finally overhaul US trade distorting subsidies that benefit large, corporate operations at the expense of family farmers and rural communities. Cloaked as “real reform,” the House passed a Farm Bill that perpetuates the status quo, wasting the rare chance to make meaningful changes in programs that simply help the rich get richer, while the poor get poorer.

“The opportunity for concrete, meaningful reform, embodied in the Fairness in Food and Farm Policy amendment, was rejected by the House under the false pretense that reform would hurt rural members of Congress running for reelection in 2008.Yet, a majority of likely voters in these districts want real farm bill reform, according to a survey recently released by Oxfam. In fact, constituents want to see their hard-earned tax dollars going to help family farmers, promote energy security, and improve the environment and the quality of the foods we eat.

“Real reform was abandoned in large measure because Members of the House were led to believe that the Agriculture Committee’s Farm Bill would provide greater benefits to American family farmers. Yet, two-thirds of America’s farmers don’t even participate in commodity programs that this bill would continue. And, of those who do participate, 10 percent receive 75 percent of the billions in subsidies that the bill continues to provide. Voters in rural America know this, with 8 out of 10 agreeing that the current Farm Bill puts small farms at a disadvantage compared to large corporate farms. But their concerns were simply ignored.

“In addition, the House blatantly ignored the impacts of our commodity programs on the lives and livelihoods of millions of poor farmers in developing countries. A recent study conducted by Dr. Daniel Sumner for Oxfam highlighted the direct connection between subsidies and poverty in West Africa. According to the study, additional income that would result from a meaningful reform of the American cotton program could feed up to a million children for an entire year, or send up million children to school.

“But despite the fact that 12,500 American cotton producers receive around three billion dollars in subsidies or that a mere 7,000 farmers received 55 percent of commodity benefits, Congress voted to continue this broken program. Incredibly, the House voted to restore a part of a program that just a year ago was eliminated under the Republican leadership of the last Congress because it was found to be in violation of international trade rules.

“We must now focus our hopes for real Farm Bill reform on the Senate. We look forward to engaging Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Harkin and the Senate leadership in an effort to bring meaningful reform to farm subsidy programs – reform that will better help family farmers, improve conservation, aid rural America, and ultimately, do away with the destructive policies that stop farmers in developing countries from sustaining themselves and their families.”

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