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Health vs. Pork: Congress Debates the Farm Bill

The Farm Bill, a massive piece of federal legislation making its way through Congress, governs what children are fed in schools and what food assistance programs can distribute to recipients. The bill provides billions of dollars in subsidies, much of which goes to huge agribusinesses producing feed crops, such as corn and soy, which are then fed to animals. By funding these crops, the government supports the production of meat and dairy products—the same products that contribute to our growing rates of obesity and chronic disease. Fruit and vegetable farmers, on the other hand, receive less than 1 percent of government subsidies.

The government also purchases surplus foods like cheese, milk, pork, and beef for distribution to food assistance programs—including school lunches. The government is not required to purchase nutritious foods.


When the House of Representatives debated the bill in July, PCRM, along with many other health and public interest groups, supported the Fairness in Farm and Food Policy Amendment, which was offered by Reps. Ron Kind (D-WI) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ). This amendment would have limited government subsidies of unhealthy foods, cut subsidies to millionaire farmers, and provided more money for nutrition and food assistance programs for Americans and impoverished children overseas.

Unfortunately, politics doomed the reform effort. At the eleventh hour, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) feared that freshman representatives who voted to cut subsidies might risk losing their seats in farm states in the 2008 elections, endangering the Democratic majority. The reform amendment was defeated 117 to 309.

Nonetheless, Congress did make some modest changes to the Farm Bill’s subsidy programs at the very last minute.

This fall, the Senate will have its turn debating and voting on the bill. PCRM will need your help again to encourage senators to cut subsidies for unhealthy foods and increase support for fruits, vegetables, and vegetarian foods. Other groups, including the American Medical Association and the President’s Cancer Panel, are also calling on Congress for sweeping reforms (see sidebar).

Here’s what other groups are saying:

The 2006-2007 Annual Report of the President’s Cancer Panel:

“For example, current agricultural and public health policy is not coordinated—we heavily subsidize the growth of foods (e.g., corn, soy) that in their processed forms (e.g., high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated corn and soybean oils, grain-fed cattle) are known contributors to obesity and associated chronic diseases, including cancer. The upcoming reauthorization of the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 (the Farm Bill) provides an opportunity that must not be missed to strongly increase support for fruit and vegetable farmers, improve the national food supply, and enhance the health of participants in the national school lunch, food stamp, and Women, Infant, and Children food assistance programs.”

The American Medical Association in a resolution passed by the AMA House of Delegates in 2007:

“RESOLVED, That our American Medical Association support efforts (1) to reduce health disparities by basing food assistance programs on the health needs of their constituents, (2) to provide vegetables, fruits, legumes, grains, vegetarian foods, and healthful nondairy beverages in school lunches and food assistance programs, and (3) to ensure that federal subsidies encourage the consumption of products low in fat and cholesterol.”


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