Lobbying to Influence Legislation Including Farm Bill Tops $500 Million

Congress Should Write Next Food and Farm Bill with Needs of Communities, Not Big Corporations, at the Center

Published May 13, 2024

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From almost the moment the 2018 food and farm bill was signed into law, agribusinesses and industry groups have spent more than half a billion dollars lobbying on issues that include the next food and farm bill, according to new research by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). The UCS report, released today, shows that over the same timeframe, from 2019 through 2023, those corporations and industry associations donated $3.4 million dollars to the campaign coffers of three key food and farm bill architects. What’s in the trillion-dollar piece of legislation will shape the country’s food and farm system for the next five years.

“Agribusiness interests spent a huge sum of money—$523 million dollars—lobbying Congress over the past five years,” said Karen Perry Stillerman, deputy director of the Food and Environment Program at UCS and co-author of the report. “This is an industry that regularly spends more money lobbying Congress than either Big Oil or defense contractors, and for understandable reasons. The food and farm bill has the power to transform our food and farm system, and agribusiness and industry groups know this. They started lobbying from almost the moment the last farm bill was enacted, showing that these groups are always working to influence this legislation in their favor.”

The UCS analysis aggregated quarterly lobbying reports that name the food and farm bill among the issues on which registered firms and organizations lobbied. Activity picked up approaching the September 30, 2023 expiration of the food and farm bill, with spending in 2023 accounting for more than half of the five-year total. The analysis found that 561 companies, industry associations, other special interest groups and advocacy organizations reported lobbying on the food and farm bill during this period, with top spenders including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Crystal Sugar Company, the American Farm Bureau Federation and Koch Industries.

The American Farm Bureau Federation, which has denied the science of climate change, worked to water down requirements for corporations to report their climate emissions, and counts millions of non-farmer customers of state-based insurance businesses as “members,” along with its state-based affiliates, spent $15.7 million on lobbying over the five-year period the UCS report analyzed.

There’s no question that Big Ag is seeking to curry favor with lawmakers through its lobbying efforts and campaign donations.

“The agriculture industry remains stubbornly exempt from most environmental regulation, a status quo that industry players like the Farm Bureau have worked hard to maintain,” said Dr. Omanjana Goswami, interdisciplinary scientist in the Food and Environment Program at UCS and report co-author. “That should be cause for concern when agriculture was responsible for more than nine percent of U.S. heat-trapping emissions in 2022, and runoff from agriculture is the leading source of pollution of the nation’s rivers and streams.”

The report calls on the members of Congress who are writing the food and farm bill to prioritize the needs of constituents without the resources or political connections to extensively lobby lawmakers: small and midsize farmers; Black, brown and Indigenous farmers; and food and farmworkers.

“A pay-to-play food and farm bill that prioritizes corporate profits is bad for the health of people, our environment and farm communities,” said Stillerman. “The next food and farm bill should rise to today’s challenges by making agriculture part of the climate solution, creating a level playing field for small and midsize farmers, and investing in the health of workers and rural communities.”