In February, after years of negotiations, Congress passed the 950-page Farm Bill, a document that regulates everything from farms to school lunches. Physicians Committee staff, members, and supporters helped achieve three major accomplishments that signal a growing awareness of the widespread effects of agricultural policy on health. But there’s still room for improvement.
1. No more direct payments.
The first piece of good news is that Congress finally did away with the controversial subsidies known as “direct payments,” which farmers currently receive regardless of whether they actually grow any crops. These subsidies favor meat and dairy producers, because the main recipients are those who grow (or have grown) “feed grains.”
2. The “King amendment” was overthrown.
Congress threw out the infamous King amendment, an attempt to boost egg industry profits and knock down states’ rights to protect public health and animals. The King amendment would have nullified—by some estimates—hundreds of state laws defending food safety, farm workers, animals, and the environment.
3. A new pilot program adds plant-based protein sources to school meals.
School children across the country will benefit from a new “Pulse Health Pilot” program, which allows schools to incorporate more beans, peas, lentils, and chickpeas into children’s breakfasts and lunches. These foods—healthful, inexpensive alternatives to animal products—are excellent sources of fiber, protein, and a variety of micronutrients.
Some Not-So-Good News
It’s not all good news. Crop insurance subsidies, which drive meat and dairy production, got a boost. The bill also includes $5 billion in new “disaster aid”—taxpayer funds livestock farmers receive when the animals under their care die during natural disasters. And federal nutrition programs like the National School Lunch Program, SNAP, and WIC will continue to promote the consumption of junk foods like processed meat and cheese, fueling America’s obesity, heart disease, and diabetes epidemics.
The Physicians Committee is already preparing to fight for reforms that will benefit humans and animals in the next Farm Bill.