WASHINGTON (October 9, 2013) – As the stalemate over fiscal and health care issues moves into day nine, Washington is rife with uncertainty. One major concern for farmers and consumers nationwide is how, when or if Congress will address the Farm Bill, which expired on October 1 and currently has no clear path for reauthorization. The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) is urging Congress to authorize a Farm Bill that prioritizes fruits and vegetables and healthy farming practices, and makes healthy food more affordable for working families.
Below is a statement by Jeffrey O’Hara, agricultural economist for UCS’ Food and Environment Program, about what is at stake in this situation and the most extreme consequences of continued Congressional inaction:
“Local food programs might seem like small beans when compared to the billions spent on commodity crops, but these programs are vital to communities nationwide. A UCS report, ‘Market Forces,’ found that farmers markets, roadside stands and other direct-to-consumer food distribution channels support local economies and can generate tens of thousands of new jobs. These markets also encourage healthier eating and sometimes double the value of nutrition assistance dollars redeemed at the markets.
“However, opening or expanding such markets to realize these benefits requires seed money. The 2008 Farm Bill included a program called the Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP), which provided modest grants to kick-start local and regional food projects. From 2006 through 2012, FMPP supported a number of markets, many of which are thriving today. With modest, targeted funding, this program yields significant returns, including encouraging greater consumption of healthy foods. UCS’s ’The $11 Trillion Reward’ found that increasing fruit and vegetable consumption in accordance with dietary guidelines could save thousands of lives and billions of dollars in health care costs. Unfortunately, FMPP was not funded last fiscal year and the future of this program is uncertain.
“This is just one of the many uncertainties looming in Washington – and the clock is ticking. If Congress doesn’t pass a new Farm Bill, federal farm policy will revert back to so-called ‘permanent law’—agriculture laws passed in 1949. And this is when all Americans will start to feel the pinch.
“The 1949 permanent law would enact policies from the 1930s and 1940s. These antiquated policies would lead to skyrocketing prices for food staples such as milk and bread—and all of this would be funded by taxpayers.
“The law would result in wheat prices increasing from $6.98 a bushel, their current price, to between $9.35 and $16.83 per bushel. Corn and other select commodity crops would be similarly affected, inflating the price of many foods, which in turn could send shock waves through our food system. The permanent laws would also force the government to purchase milk at much higher prices. Milk and dairy prices could soar to nearly double current prices.
“A reversion to 1949 permanent laws caused by congressional inaction would benefit select commodities. At the same time, this scenario will make life harder for consumers to afford nutritious foods. During this tough economic situation, with food insecurity on the rise, it would be a travesty for Congress to allow food prices to dramatically increase.
“The bottom line is that without a new farm bill, the situation will get far worse before it gets better – that is unless Congress can put politics aside and focus on the country’s farmers and consumers.”