Secret Farm Bill

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This article is part of the Food Rights Network, a project of the Center for Media and Democracy. Find out more here.

The Secret Farm Bill is the set of U.S. Farm Bill recommendations being submitted by a committee of four to the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (the Deficit "Supercommittee") by November 23, 2011. According to The Hill, the Agriculture committees "had been asked to deliver recommendations on $23 billion in cuts over the next 10 years by Nov. 1, but they missed that deadline."[1]

The farm bill is written every five years, and the Farm Bill Extension Act of 2007 doesn't expire until September 2012. The committee of four consists of the leaders of the U.S. House Committee on Agriculture and the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, representing Oklahoma, Michigan, Minnesota and Kansas. If the agricultural committee submits the bill to the Supercommittee on time, and the Supercommittee incorporates its recommendations into the deficit reduction package, the 2012 Farm Bill will have been "signed into law without so much as a spirited debate," according to the New York Times' Mark Bittman.[2]

According to Bittman, "The group of four is aiming at $23 billion in cuts, with around $14 billion coming from commodity subsidies, $6 billion from conservation programs, and the rest from nutrition programs like food stamps, now more important than ever. . . . Few are privy to discussions of either the group of four or the supercommittee."[2]

Accusations of Intrigue and Ambivalence

The Hill described the process as "using the supercommittee to avoid what would be a more public, election-year debate in 2012, when the current farm bill expires and new legislation would be scheduled for writing, according to critics of the effort" and added that "the secrecy of the process has even some farm lobbyists raising questions."[1]

The grassroots community group Food Democracy Now (FDN) organized a campaign asking people to call the members of the committee of four "to put an end to corporate greed and say 'No' to the secretive process by which the farm bill budget negotiations are taking place. Rushing this vital piece of legislation behind closed doors," FDN claims, "is unfair and undemocratic." The organization asked concerned citizens to ask the committee and their Representatives and Senators to instead co-sponsor the Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act (S. 1773, H.R. 3286).[3]

On November 18, the FDN website claimed that "DC sources have verified that a deal has been struck by the 4 members of the House and Senate Ag committee and the backdoor bill could be announced in the next few hours."[3]

As of November 8, 2011, over 27,000 phone calls had been made.[2]

Accusations of Future and Exported Costs

According to The Hill, "While some of the changes lawmakers are expected to propose would save billions on paper, critics say the new farm payments could balloon in cost if commodity prices fall."[1]

"Environmental and international poverty advocates. . . believe higher price-based payments promote overproduction and distort world trade, hurting farmers in the Third World and causing them to cut down rainforest in search of more income."[1]

Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act

According to Representative Chellie Pingree (D-ME), the "Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act" (S. 1773, H.R. 3286), introduced by Pingree and Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), would "change the farm bill to aid the local food movement," specifically by modifying nine of the 16 titles of the farm bill[4]:

  • "Provide funding to help farmers build the infrastructure—like slaughterhouses—to process and sell their food locally;
  • "Create a new crop insurance program tailored to the needs of organic farmers and diversified farmers who grow a wide variety of crops and can't easily access traditional crop insurance;
  • "Break down barriers for schools and institutions to procure local food more easily. Provide schools with a local school credit to purchase local foods, as well as fix out-dated federal policies that inhibit schools from purchasing local food"; and

• "Make it easier for food stamp recipients to spend their money at farmers markets by giving the farmers access to technology necessary to accept electronic benefits—that money goes right back into the local economy. The bill includes a pilot program to test smart phone technology to accept food stamp benefits at farmers market."[4]

Pingree said on Monday, November 7th, that the act "looks at existing programs and tries to find ways to make them work for the small to medium-sized family farm, which is the side of agriculture that’s actually growing."[2]

Members of the "Committee of Four"

  • Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) - Chair of Senate Agricultural Committee - (202) 224-4822
  • Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS) Ranking Member Senate Agriculture Committee - (202) 224-4774
  • Representative Frank Lucas (R-OK) Chair House Committee on Agriculture - 202-225-5565
  • Representative Collin Peterson (D-MN) Former Chair House Committee on Agriculture - (202) 225-2165


Other SourceWatch Resources

PRWatch Resources

External Resources


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Erik Wasson, ‘Secret farm bill’ primed for passage in debt deal, The Hill, November 15, 2011
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Mark Bittman, The Secret Farm Bill, New York Times Opinion Pages, November 8, 2011
  3. 3.0 3.1 Food Democracy Now, 24 Hours to Kill the 'Secret Farm Bill', organizational campaign website, accessed November 18, 2011
  4. 4.0 4.1 Rep. Chellie Pingree, Changes to the Farm Bill, U.S. legislator's website, accessed November 18, 2011
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