Subject: Seize the moment!
Dear Committee Chairman Lucas, Committee members and staff:
The House Agriculture Committee can set a precedent for Congress as a whole by creating a Food Bill that serves the common good of the American people. You will need to show a willingness to resist partisan, local and special interests. With Congress facing a fiscal cliff now is the time to display good citizenship and an ability to work together.
In the past the Farm Bill has been a political compromise serving local and special interests of Republican and Democratic members of Congress alike. A Farm Bill that is not just a compromise but rather a high-minded response to a national and international need would give a new direction to governance.
As U.S. Catholic bishops and the Catholic Rural Life Conference have said, the Farm Bill should
- Help people who are hungry here at home and overseas through improved access to nutritious food;
- Promote development in poor countries so that communities are more resilient to drought and other issues that cause persistent hunger;
- Better serve small and moderate-sized family farmers in the U.S., particularly minority-owned farms;
- Promote good stewardship of our land and environment; and
- Reduce subsidies to large U.S. agri-businesses and redirect savings to support anti-hunger efforts at home and around the world.
The Union of Concerned Scientists has prepared a report that makes the following recommendations:
- The USDA should reform minimum-pricing orders to make them more effective for the organic dairy sector. Current dairy pricing policies create a revenue pooling system designed to ensure that all farmers receive an equitable return for the milk they produce. However, this system does not take the differences between organic and conventional dairy into account, and as a result, it tends to reduce the production and consumption of organic milk.
- Congress and the USDA should customize risk-management programs to reflect organic milk market conditions. Deliberations on the 2012 farm bill have included proposals for new risk management programs intended to protect dairy farmers from volatile market conditions. As in the case of pricing policies, however, these proposals ignore important differences between conventional and organic dairy, making them largely ineffective for organic dairy farmers.
- Congress should maintain or increase funding for programs that support organic agriculture. A number of programs already exist that help organic farmers in various ways—reducing the cost of organic certification, funding research on organic production systems, or providing technical and financial assistance for conversation measures. Expanding these programs will further support organic milk production and rural economic development.
- Congress should fund, and the USDA should implement, programs that support regional food-system development. Organic dairy farms are important components of regional food systems, so programs that promote the expansion of these systems can also support the growth of the organic dairy sector. Farm-to-school programs, for instance, by encouraging schools to do their sourcing from regional farmers, could spur the expansion of organic dairy production in many areas.
A summary of the UCS report (as well as a link to the full report) is available at http://www.ucsusa.org/food_and_agriculture/solutions/advance-sustainable-agriculture/economic-benefits-of-organic-dairy.html.
Good wishes in meeting the challenges ahead.