© 7/1/12 Josh Sager – www.SarcasticLiberal.blogspot.com
The United States government periodically passes or re-authorizes federal farm bills in order to govern issues involving agriculture - issues including regulations, subsidies, environmental protections and trade. The 2012 Farm Bill, formally referred to as the “Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012”, is a gigantic, omnibus bill, stretching over 1000 pages and costing approximately $1 trillion dollars during the next decade. Due to its size and expansive nature, this bill will have wide reaching effects on issues of farming, conservation and food for individuals across the country. To put the sheer size of the 2012 farm bill into perspective: According to estimates by the Obama administration, the Iraq war cost the USA just over $1 trillion in direct costs over the last decade – nearly identical to the projected costs of the 2012 Farm Bill.
Unfortunately, while the 2012 farm bill is still being debated in the legislature, thus many details are yet to be determined, there are several disheartening initiatives which are virtually certain to pass, regardless of the final wording of the bill: The SNAP program (food stamps) will likely receive significant cuts and genetically modified crops will be shielded from disclosing their unnatural natures on packaging.
SNAP Program Cuts
Both the House and Senate versions of the 2012 Farm Bill include budget cuts to the SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance) Program, thus the only question surrounding the cuts is one of scale. The Senate version of the Farm Bill cuts $4.5 billion of federal funding out of the SNAP program ($450 million per year) and would impose new restrictions on eligibility in order to cut costs. The House Republicans are pushing for $134 billion in cuts ($13.3 billion per year) to the SNAP Program and will likely attempt to attach these cuts to the Farm Bill before they take a vote on it. It is likely that neither side will get the cuts that they desire, but rather that the final result will be somewhere between 4.5 and 134 billion dollars in cuts.
The Senate version of the Farm bill trims the edges off of the SNAP program, cutting 5.7% out of the $78 billion dollar a year SNAP program, while the House Republican plan would likely cripple the program by cutting 17% of its funding. Regardless of what the final cuts to SNAP are, the results will be painful for those dependent upon food stamps and will likely harm the economy.
The SNAP program is a vital program and has been effective in both assisting poor families to feed themselves and stimulating the economy. Cuts to the SNAP program will likely lead to serious hardship for the poor, and a slowdown of economic growth caused by a decrease in demand for food. Millions of Americans, many of whom are children, are kept fed through funds provided by the SNAP program, and cuts to this program will cause these people to suffer. In addition to the humanitarian aspect of the SNAP Program, it has a very beneficial economic effect: SNAP food assistance has an economic multiplier effect of approximately 1.7 (for every $1 spent, it stimulates demand by $1.70), and is much more effective at stimulating the economy than any known tax cut; decreases in this program’s funding will lead to decreased demand and a slowdown of economic growth across the entire economy.
Shielding GMO Products from Disclosure
The 2012 Farm Bill will help shield producers of genetically modified crops from being forced to disclose the fact that their products have been modified. Few people realize just how many goods that they encounter on a regular basis are genetically modified, thus they are unable to make rational choices as to their consumption of genetically modified goods. Unfortunately, an amendment, proposed by Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), that would force food companies to post whether or not their product contains genetically modified organisms was struck down in a bipartisan vote; the 2012 Farm Bill will inevitably perpetuate the concealment of which goods contain genetically modified organisms in order to protect food companies.
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are organisms, many times crops or food animals, which have been modified by human genetic manipulation technologies to be superior (theoretically) to the original organisms. These modifications take many forms, ranging from pesticide resistant crops (ex. Monsanto’s “roundup ready” GE corn) to foods with enhanced nutritional aspects (ex. “golden rice”), and are often marketed as the next evolution of crop sciences.
The genetic modification of crops is a multi-billion dollar a year industry, utilized by numerous multi-national corporations. There are innumerable goods, including most processed foods, which contain some level of genetically engineered crop – follow this link to a list of common goods containing GMOs. Of particular importance when looking at the spread of GE crops are the corn and sugar beet goods created by the Monsanto Corporation; these crops are the primary sources of corn and beet sugar that eventually become glucose, fructose, and high fructose corn syrup which are added to virtually all processed foods.
While they are marketed as safe, some genetically modified goods have been shown to have serious adverse side effects. Sometimes the splicing of one crop’s genetic code into another’s can lead to allergic reactions; this is particularly dangerous as the consumer may not even know that they are eating a food which contains a food they are deathly allergic to. In 1996, soybeans that had been spliced with brazil-nuts caused some people to unknowingly consume brazil-nut genetic material and suffer severe allergic reactions.
In addition to allergic reactions, there is the potential that genetically modified foods which are resistant to pesticides or produce their own pesticides may be toxic for human consumption. A recent study indicates that “roundup ready” corn, a GMO produced by Monsanto Co., may cause organ damage to mammals; while there haven’t been confirmed cases of human organ damage from this good, it is a very real possibility that such damage could occur given long-term consumption of GM corn. At particular risk for harm due to GMO crop pesticides are developing fetuses, as their tissues are far more susceptible to chemical poisoning (similar to why pregnant women should not drink alcohol or intake nicotine).
Given the potential consequences of unknowingly consuming genetically engineered products, it is simple common sense that people should be warned as to what they are eating; this is not to ban GMOs, but rather to ensure that consumers know just what they are buying and allowing them to make rational choices. The public opinion polling on the mandated disclosure of GMOs in food is heavily in favor of disclosure: A recent poll by Reuters concluded that 93% of Americans believe that genetically modified goods should be labeled for consumers. Individuals should be told what is in the food which they are buying and then be allowed to make a rational choice; the only way that this can occur is if all GMO-containing products are clearly labeled as such.
If an individual chooses to avoid genetically modified crops – whether it be health concerns, religious reasons, or simply a personal preference – it is an individual’s right to do so. Unfortunately, as there are no current regulations that force food suppliers to label goods which contain GMOs, it is virtually impossible for the casual consumer to determine just what they are eating.
In the debate over the 2012 Farm Bill, Rep Bernie Sanders proposed an amendment which would require companies to disclose whether their products contain GMOs on its packaging; this amendment failed by a bipartisan vote of 73 to 26 in the Senate. As this amendment failed in the Senate by such a significant margin, it is essentially impossible that it will be included in the final bill (particularly because the House is even more hostile to such disclosure than the Senate). With the failed attempt by Rep Sanders to amend the 2012 Farm bill to include new disclosure regulations, it seems likely that such disclosure will not happen in the near future.
Without a federal law mandating disclosure of genetically modified materials in food, there is virtually no way for such laws to be enacted. On the state level, any attempt to pass legislation mandating disclosure would either fail to pass, or meet lawsuits by every major genetic engineering corporation. The threat of such lawsuits by powerful corporations presents a virtually insurmountable obstacle for any state level attempts to force disclosure, even on a smaller level. This is one issue that simply must be fought on the federal level and, unfortunately, this battle seems lost for now.