Perspective: California Takes Important Step to Decriminalize Microenterprise

By: Joseph Pileri, Contributor

Last month, California Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation legalizing street vending across California. This bill prohibits California localities from outlawing street vending outright or treating any violation of street vending regulations as a criminal offense, limiting penalties to administrative fines payable only on an as-needed basis. The law also requires prosecutors to dismiss any currently pending prosecution brought under street vending regulations.[1]

This bill follows years of efforts by advocates in Los Angeles to legalize street vending in the city. For years, street vending was illegal in Los Angeles despite the near ubiquity of fruit carts, taco stands, and hot dog vendors. There was a blanket ban on street vending that exposed any street vendor to potential fines and criminal violations.[2] Advocates recently renewed their push to change this law so that thousands of immigrant street vendors would not find themselves facing deportation because of operating a street vending business.

Los Angeles was not alone in its treatment of street vending. Municipalities around the country have criminalized street vending or the violation of street vending regulations. This is an example of what I term “the criminalization of microenterprise” – local jurisdictions completely outlawing street vending and other business activities or treating violations of licensing rules as a criminal offense. I am working on a project to survey municipalities around the country and study their treatment of street vending. The results, thus far, are surprising. Though many localities require street vendors to be licensed and may impose fines and civil penalties for violating these licensing requirements, cities from Detroit[3] to Houston[4] treat the failure to comply with street vending regulations as a criminal violation. Washington, DC attempted to criminalize street vending in 2014.

These laws have disproportionately negative effects on would-be entrepreneurs who already face barriers to entering the formal economy. Immigrants, those with legal status and those without, individuals returning from incarceration, and individuals with time-consuming childcare and family obligations often look to start microenterprises like street vending to provide for themselves and their families. When these types of businesses are criminalized, vulnerable individuals may be deterred from starting these enterprises or may face severe penalties, including deportation or incarceration, for what would otherwise be a simple licensing violation.

Concerns about public health and safety – particularly when it comes to food – are understandable. The public has a right to know that food, even when bought and consumed on the street, is safe. The California law, however, does not force Angelenos to take health risks with every bite of their al pastor taco. This legislation explicitly permits cities to pass ordinances related to public health and safety. Cities may even have an easier time regulating the safety of food sold by street vendors now that proprietors of these businesses no longer face potential criminal penalties.

Much work remains to understand the extent to which cities and states criminalize street vending and other microenterprises. California has taken an important first step that both protects the health of the public and allows individuals to support themselves and their families. Angelenos who love grabbing a pupusa or a bacon-wrapped hot dog on the go will also be appreciative. By criminalizing microenterprise, cities raise barriers to entry for vulnerable entrepreneurs, unduly burden those entrepreneurs most at risk, and detract from the vibrancy of communities. I hope that California is only the first to reverse this trend.

 

[1] 2018 Cal. Legis. Serv. Ch. 459 (S.B. 946) (WEST).

[2] L.A., Cal., Municipal Code Section 42.00 (1994).

[3] Detroit, Mich., City Code § 41-6-2 (2017).

[4] Hous., Tex., Code of Ordinances § 22-91 (2018).

Proposition 12 – Humane v. Humane

This fall the California ballot will include an initiated state statute, the Farm Animal Confinement Initiative, or California Proposition 12.  This statute would ban the sale of meat and eggs from calves raised for veal, breeding pigs, and egg-laying hens confined in areas below a specific number of square feet, repealing and replacing part of a 2008 California law that also addressed the humane treatment of animals.

Dr. Alison Van Eenennaam provides an interesting perspective on Prop 12 in the blog post, below, which is cross-posted from her blog, Biobeef Blog.  Dr. Van Eenennaam is a Cooperative Extension Specialist in the field of Animal Genomics and Biotechnology in the Department of Animal Science at University of California, Davis.  I also recommend reading her series of three posts on this issue that she posted in January.  The first is linked here.

Proposition 12 – Humane vs. Humane

Back in January I wrote a blog entitled Proposition 2 déjà vu about a proposed  California ballot initiative entitled “The Prevention of Cruelty to Farm Animals Act”. Sure enough that initiative qualified for the 2018 ballot, despite the clear data on the impacts as detailed in my three blog posts on this issue (Six hens a layingEvidence-based animal welfare recommendationsProposition 2 déjà vu).

I am quaintly of the opinion that objective evidence should drive public policy, and not emotions, despite having lived in California for over 30 years. And as a public scientist I remain convinced that objective facts and data are the best way to inform policy.

However, ballot initiatives in California are basically a pay-to-play scorecard. If you have the money to get the requisite number of signatures (365,880 valid signatures), then your initiative will be on the ballot, facts be damned. And so it was with Proposition 12, a Humane Society of the United States (HSUS)‐backed initiative addressing animal confinement, which has raised $5.37 million to date… And so now let’s cue the opposition funding which will no doubt be “big ag” or “corporate farming” or “evil egg” or “big chicken”, or a tearful segment of a mother on Dr. Oz, or a shockumentary on NetFlix…..but no – crickets (actually cage-free, mute crickets to be precise). As in no organized-opposition from those who grow your food, or research the best way to produce food sustainably (Hint: people who might know some things).

Wait – what? Agriculture and scientists have had enough. We know science and facts are useless (see my previous 3 blogs re this initiative and almost all of the outreach work I have ever done in agricultural science), and there just is no point in fighting initiatives funded by wealthy animal activist industry groups who use persuasive arguments based entirely on emotion while conveniently failing to mention the multiple trade-offs and unintended consequences associated with their proposed course of action. And so the usual adversaries of demonstrably bad agricultural policy i.e. “big ag”, known as farmers by the general public, and “tobacco scientists”,  known as public university faculty and researchers to most, have thrown in the towel.

And I understand that response. It is exhausting trying to fight these large, well-funded activist groups who will stop at nothing to get their way – facts and scientific consensus be damned, and it can be a lucrative pastime. Ask those trying to fight the anti-vaxxers, or the anti-GMO industry. Slowly I see my animal scientist colleagues quietly retreating into the “spiral of silence” – a tranquil place where no one fabricates facts, and where pure science can be carried out peacefully sans messy public confrontations – sometimes referred to as “the ivory tower.”

Last time UC Davis got involved in this discussion by providing objective facts regarding Proposition 2 “Treatment of Farm Animals” over a decade ago in 2008, it cost the taxpayers more than a million dollars in a lawsuit with HSUS – money that did not go to educating our students or carrying out research, and the lawsuit about wore out one of my faculty colleagues. Likely UC administration is happy we are playing dead this time around on Proposition 12 too.

And who can blame the University? It is not fun to be in the middle of a politicized, scientific controversy. However, if professionals in the field are unwilling to stand up for objective data and evidence-based decisions, who will? And that is where this discussion gets interesting.

Who is opposing Proposition 12 – if not industry or subject-matter experts? The Humane Farming Association (HFA), an animal cruelty organization that opposes the proposition on the grounds that it legalizes for several more years some practices HFA opposes. So Proposition 12 does not move fast enough for the Humane Farming Association.

Say again? With a modest $550,000, a committee backed entirely by the Humane Farming Association, is the sole funder of opposition to Proposition 12, the “The Prevention of Cruelty to Farm Animals”. And here is where it gets good. Who doesn’t like a little Humane vs Humane mud wrestling?

Bradley Miller, spokesperson for HFA’s Californian’s Against Cruelty, Cages, and Fraud “Stop the Rotten Egg Initiative” stated of rival HSUS

The Humane Society of the United States [HSUS] is once again deceiving voters, flip-flopping on the issue of cages, and perpetuating the suffering of egg-laying hens”                                            HFA

There is a video made by HFA (below and can be accessed here) summarizing their version of the June 19, 2018 California State Legislature hearing regarding Proposition 12 which contains some interesting conflict-of-interest footage, including some questioning as to how much money HSUS was making from Proposition 12 (Spoiler alert: HSUS does not have those numbers).

https://player.vimeo.com/video/277511154?app_id=122963

According to HFA, HSUS ended up collecting 664,000 signatures for the ballot, but less than a quarter (164,000) of those were collected by volunteers, the remaining signatures were collected by HSUS paid-“bounty-hunter” signature gatherers, like the one I met at the CA Davis market in January, telling me that Proposition 12 would remove non-existent “veal-crates”, and sow “gestation crates” from California production systems. This video is worth a listen, as Miller suggests the major opposition to Proposition 12 will be the humane farming associations.

Miller further stated on the HFA “Stop the Rotten Egg” page:

Prop 12 is now just a publicity stunt in search of a lawsuit. Not only does this come at taxpayer expense, HSUS’s reckless exploitation of California’s ballot measure system is putting in grave danger a wide array of existing consumer, animal, and environmental protection lawsOf the initiatives appearing on the November ballot, Proposition 12 is the dirtiest of the dozenWe’re confident that California voters won’t get fooled again and that this fraudulent initiative will be decisively rejected.”                                                                                                                                 HFA

And then there is a quote from Friends of Animals (FoA) on the HFA “Stop the Rotten Egg” page,

“This initiative should be fiercely opposed by everyone who cares about farm animal suffering. HSUS’s collusion with the egg industry is disturbing. From legalizing battery cages to allowing as little as one square foot of space per hen — this initiative would be a disaster for millions of egg-laying hens who would still be left suffering in battery cages throughout California.”                     FoA

And yet another quote from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) on the HFA “Stop the Rotten Egg” page

Beware! This initiative is being painted in rosy terms, but don’t be fooled… What it would actually do is allow farms to keep egg-laying hens in cages until 2022, at which time factory farms would still be able to confine uncaged hens to massive, crowded sheds with only 1 square foot of space per bird.”                                                                                                                                                        PETA

And finally this from Animals 24/7 on the HFA “Stop the Rotten Egg” page

“Time and again HFA has accurately identified fatal flaws in legislation advanced by HSUS.”    Animals 24/7

So what is a voter to do? Be guided by The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the Humane Farming Association (HFA), People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), Friends of Animals (FoA), or Animals 24/7? Some of the above, none of the above, one of the above? Who is representing animal welfare, and how can you tell? You could try asking the scientific community who have spent their careers researching these questions, or farmers who happen to know a thing or two about farming – but that does not seem to be a popular route.

In the absence of objective, evidence-based measurements – there is just a “blob” of emotions, competing world-views, and fund-raising agendas. And that is not a great foundation upon which to base decisions around animal agriculture or public policy. Case in point: Proposition 2 from 2008 (see what that did to California farmers: Six hens a laying).

So it seems some cracks are appearing in the humpty dumpty coalition of “animal-themed corporations” also known as the “humane community”.  And perhaps nowhere is this rift more bizarrely illustrated than in this “Stop the Rotten Egg” page  animated video, “Proposition 12: California’s Caged Chickens Say NO!”.

For anyone that has ever met the former President and CEO of HSUS, Wayne Pecelle, who resigned February 2018 in a #MeToo moment  after a number of women accused him of sexual harassment,  the big-toothed male lead featured in this animated video is a thinly disguised provocation from one humane society (HFA) whose operations are based on the West Coast in California to another (HSUS) based on the East Coast in Maryland. Ironically the largest egg producing state in the US by far is Iowa.

On an unrelated note, buried in the fine print of Proposition 12, are the following strikeouts (and additions) that remove the scientific and agricultural research exemptions that were previously written into SECTION 5. SECTION 25992 OF THE CALIFORNIA HEALTH AND SAFETY CODE (line A below).

The proposed Proposition 12 language includes the following exemptions:

“This Chapter will not apply:

(a) During scientific or agricultural medical research.”

In other words, scientific and agricultural research animals at universities and other research facilities are subject to the provisions of the initiative – just like all of the farm animls. The implications of this change to the research exemption on things such as teaching, scientific or agricultural research, especially for genetic and nutrition research (we need individual cages to collect observations or phenotypes on each animal, and to record which egg comes from which hen), may well not be discovered until after the ballot votes are cast when agriculturalists and scientists go to perform specialized research on calves, pigs, or poultry.

It may be that those university researchers retreating to the “spiral of silence” to avoid the discomfort of a heated public discussion of Proposition 12, will eventually find their research projects thwarted by the inevitable passage of the initiative (I may have quaint opinions on how objective evidence should drive public policy, but I am a realist living in California). Yet another casualty of public policy based on emotion and propaganda, rather than informed by objective evidence and science-based recommendations.

As Mr. Miller, spokesperson for HFA’s Californian’s Against Cruelty, Cages, and Fraud, ironically lamented during his testimony before the California State Legislature, including the words “farm animal” and “protection” in a ballot initiative in California is enough to get it passed, irrespective of how the text reads, and what the ultimate impacts of its passage will be on the welfare of animals, and the people of California.

Los Angeles Food Policy Tracker 2018

I am excited to share that the Resnick Program and the Los Angeles Food Policy Council have published the third Los Angeles Food Policy Tracker, compiled by Ellison Griep, who spent the summer working with both the Resnick Program and the Los Angeles Food Policy Council.

The Resnick Program for Food Law and Policy and the Los Angeles Food Policy Council actively follow Los Angeles food policy actions. In the Los Angeles Food Policy Tracker 2018, substantial policy actions undertaken at both the City and County level are identified. Specifically, the tracker documents policies that were adopted, administratively closed, or are currently pending during the time period from January 1, 2017 to July 1, 2018.

We hope this valuable resource is a useful tool for the Los Angeles food community, and for the food community more broadly.

Farm Bill Law Enterprise Spends Day Lobbying for a Better Farm Bill on Capitol Hill

Today, Farm Bill Law Enterprise members–including Allison Korn, the Assistant Dean for Experiential Education at UCLA Law and the Director of the Food Law and Policy Clinic, Beth Kent, a UCLA Law student, and Emilie Aguirre, a former academic fellow at the Resnick Program for Food Law and Policy and a doctoral student at Harvard Business School–spent the day on Capitol Hill, advocating for a better farm bill and opposing the House farm bill.  See below for pictures of Dean Korn and Beth Kent, and the whole group together.  We look forward to hearing from the participants when they return!

The Farm Bill Law Enterprise (FBLE) is a novel partnership between eight law school programs that came together under the leadership of the Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic to substantively engage with the farm bill and identify viable steps toward reform.  In addition to Harvard, FBLE members include: UCLA School of Law Resnick Program for Food Law and Policy; Duke Law School Environmental Law & Policy Clinic; Harvard Law School Environmental Policy Initiative and Emmett Environmental Law and Policy Clinic; Harvard Law School Health Law and Policy Clinic; Pace University Elizabeth Haub School of Law Food Law Initiative; Vermont Law School Center for Agriculture and Food Systems; and Yale Law School Environmental Protection Clinic.

In addition to members programs, FBLE recruited law students from across the country to work on the project. In 2016, the newly-formed FBLE dove into collaborative research. Together, faculty and students analyzed each of the farm bill’s components and developed shared goals for a farm bill that meets the long-term needs of our society. These goals include a reliable and nutritious food supply, an honest living for farmers, a healthy environment, and a strong safety net against hunger.

At the end of March 2018, FBLE released three reports making recommendations for how the next farm bill can begin to meet those goals by maintaining key programs that work, adding new programs, and redistributing funding in ways that are better for health, the environment and justice.

Each report focuses on a specific theme: Diversified Agricultural Economies; Food Access, Nutrition and Public Health; and Productivity and Risk Management.

The reports can be found at  www.FarmBillLaw.org.

 

Reefer Madness

by Diana Winters

I just read two very interesting articles, both arguing that states and the federal government have to do more to regulate marijuana products as more and more states move to legalization. In Marijuana Edibles and “Gummy Bears,” published this month in the Buffalo Law Review, Paul J. Larkin, Jr. looks closely at marijuana edibles, discussing their retail distribution, potential harms, and regulatory options available to local, state, and federal governments. The solution Larkin advocates is compelling—that the FDA declare foods with THC as adulterated, and either seize such products or require edibles to comply with standards that reduce the risk that children would ingest the product.

In “High” Standards: The Wave of Marijuana Legalization Sweeping America Conveniently Ignores the Hidden Risks, forthcoming in the Ohio State Law Journal, Steve P. Calandrillo and Katelyn J. Fulton also focus on marijuana edibles and argue that these products pose special risks to the population. The authors make certain specific recommendations, including the increased study of edibles, a refinement of edible labels, a ban on edibles that resemble children’s candy, and more.

Beyond the specific issues of marijuana regulation, these articles are fascinating in regards to the federalism issues they present, especially in this time of some confusion about the federal government’s stance towards the state legalization of medical and recreational marijuana. I better go eat some “brownies” and try to figure it all out…

State regulation and the precautionary principle – comments open

Check out this interesting article published in the New York Times’ Sunday Review yesterday.  It discusses the role of the states in regulating a class of chemicals called PFAS chemicals, which include PFOA and PFOS.  Washington State recently banned firefighting foam and food packaging containing the entire class of chemicals even without definitive research showing the effect of all of these chemicals on the human body.  The article notes federal inaction on these chemicals and supports Washington State’s approach as a way to avoid scattershot regulation that leads to the substitution of other harmful chemicals for those banned.

The tension between regulating based on the precautionary principle and regulating only after all of the evidence is one we see often in the food arena.  Thoughts?

Government subsidized loan programs for chicken facilities and Becerra v. The Coca-Cola Co.

Late last week I read two interesting short pieces on food law, one an email to a listserve by Susan Schneider, a Professor of Law and the Director of the LL.M. Program in Agricultural & Food Law at the University of Arkansas School of Law on using government subsidized loans to build chicken facilities for contract production, and one a Public Citizen blog post by Stephen Gardner, former litigation director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, criticizing the Northern District of California District Court’s recent opinion in Becerra v. Coca-Cola. 

Professor Schneider wrote the following:

For a long time, I have questioned the use of government subsidized loan programs through USDA and SBA to fund the huge loans needed to build chicken facilities for contract production.  As noted in Food, Farming, & Sustainability, I have argued that those loans supported the one-sided contracts that are used throughout the industry. Lenders would rarely fund operations based on these short term and risk laden contracts without a government guarantee.  In this regard the subsidized lending programs, designed to help small business, have actually been used to support the integrated industry. 

The SBA Office of Inspector General has just published a report that lends support to this analysis. It provides a good description of the contractual relationship, the risks associated with the contract terms, and the role of  SBA in supporting this system of production. And, it is a fascinating look at the billions of dollars of SBA loans going to poultry growers. It finds that the control exercised by the integrator is so extensive that the integrator and the grower are “affiliated enterprises,” and that as such, about $1.8 billion in loans should have been ineligible.  “SBA guaranteed loans to affiliative enterprises are inconsistent with its stated mission to assist small business concerns.”  

For anyone writing or teaching about the system that produces our inexpensive and abundant  supply of poultry, I highly recommend this report. 

Evaluation of SBA 7(A) Loans Made to Poultry Farmers, SBA OIG, Rep. No. 18-13 (Mar. 6, 2018). 

Appreciation to Politico, Morning Ag Report for bringing this report to my attention.

 

The link to Mr. Gardner’s piece is here: http://pubcit.typepad.com/clpblog/2018/03/illustration-of-the-problem-of-judges-substituting-their-own-opinions-of-facts.html

 

Everything You Need To Know About The Upcoming Farm Bill Debate

 

With media attention focused on so many high-profile issues occupying Congress, the renewal of the farm bill has flown under the radar. The farm bill, which is a massive piece of legislation that addresses many aspects of the US food system—including food production, conservation, nutrition policy, and food access—must be passed every five to seven years. The latest farm bill, known as the Agricultural Act of 2014, was signed in February 2014, and many provisions of this bill expire in 2018. The US House and Senate Agriculture Committees have been holding hearings since early 2017 to gather information about important issues from members of the agricultural and nutrition communities. After the hearings and a budget determination by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), each agriculture committee will report full drafts of the bill to the floor. The bills when passed by each house will then be reconciled by a joint committee, the reconciled bill will be returned to both houses for a vote, and, if all goes well, be sent to the president to sign. The complexity of this process is magnified by the size and reach of the farm bill.

The 2014 farm bill has 12 titles, covering price and income support for farmers, crop insurance, nutrition programs (including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program [SNAP]), specialty and organic crop programs, conservation, and trade, among other things. The CBO projected that the 2014 farm bill would cost approximately $95 billion a year, with about $75 billion of that going to nutrition programs, and most of that to SNAP funding. It is no surprise, therefore, that these nutrition programs are always a controversial part of farm bill reauthorization. The mechanisms embedded in the farm bill to assist farmers with price supports for certain commodities also implicate nutrition policy and are a contentious subject. This post highlights these and several other issues that will dominate discussion as the next farm bill reauthorization process moves forward.

Nutrition—Title 4

Questions of whether nutrition programs should remain part of the farm bill, and whether food assistance programs should be reformed, will be prominent in 2018 farm bill debates. Nutrition contains three subtitles—the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the Commodity Distribution Program, and Miscellaneous Programs. The Department of Agriculture (USDA) began supplying people with food stamps in 1939, requiring users to buy surplus food with the stamps. The program continued in the 1960s, but the surplus requirement was eliminated. In 1973, the food stamps program was incorporated into the farm bill, and the name was changed to SNAP in 2008 to fight the stigma of food stamps. The Commodity Distribution Program gives the USDA the authority to purchase food for school lunches and for direct distribution to those in need, including to food pantries, food banks, and programs that supply food directly to households. The Miscellaneous subtitle includes initiatives such as a farmers’ market program for seniors and a farm-to-school pilot program.

The incorporation of the nutrition title into the farm bill increased support for the bill from urban legislators, adding to its traditional support from rural districts, but the marriage of the subjects has been strained. In 2013, the House of Representatives tried to remove the nutrition title from the 2014 farm bill, but that version of the bill did not pass. Critics of the combination, including the conservative Heritage Foundation, argue that the food stamp program is in need of reform and that as a step toward that reform the nutrition title should be removed from the farm bill. The Trump administration’s USDA, however, has not issued a strong call to remove the nutrition title from the farm bill, instead focusing on reforming the SNAP program in its articulated priorities for the bill.

In the USDA’s 2018 Farm Bill and Legislative Principles document, issued at the end of January 2018, it calls for SNAP benefits to be connected to work requirements. The USDA will continue to “support work as the pathway to self-sufficiency, well-being, and economic mobility for individuals and families receiving supplemental nutrition assistance.” This is consistent with the administration’s broader efforts to connect public benefits to work requirements, as in the Medicaid program. There are already requirements in place for able-bodied adults without dependents, who can receive SNAP benefits for no more than three months in three years if they do not meet work requirements, although not all states take away benefits for noncompliance. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue has expressed, in public meetings around the country, that the administration would like to move more people off SNAP, partly by tightening the work requirements for these able-bodied adults.

Commodities—Title 1

The price and income supports that the farm bill gives to certain commodity producers have historically been vigorously argued and that contentiousness has already begun this time around. These price supports were the reason the first farm bill was established during the Great Depression—the government purchased excess commodities and provided payments to farmers not to overproduce, thereby stabilizing the market—and they persisted for decades. In the 1990s, Congress “tried to wean farmers from subsidies and let the market dictate prices” by eliminating direct payments to farmers. After prices dropped, however, Congress reintroduced direct payments. In the 2014 farm bill, Congress expanded the crop insurance program (Title 11) and introduced two programs in lieu of direct payments—Price Loss Coverage and Agricultural Risk Coverage.

The traditional design of price and income supports has been criticized by both conservative and progressivecommentators for years because these supports have been awarded to farms every year, even when times were good; have been based on production, leading the biggest farms to receive the most subsidies; and are susceptible to fraud. There is also evidence that the expansion of crop insurance in 2014 increased costs for the government, the opposite of the intended effect. Moreover, the supports are only available for certain “major” commodities, including corn, soybeans, wheat, barley, and oats, not fruits and vegetables, which fall under a different title—Title 10—Specialty Crops and Horticulture. For decades, critics of the programs have argued that these governmental subsidies have artificially lowered the price of crops that are used to make processed food, thereby increasing the availability of these foods and negatively affecting the health of Americans. This connection was at issue during the 2014 farm bill debate and will most likely be an issue during the debate over the 2018 bill.

Specialty Crops And Horticulture—Title 10

Specialty crops, which are defined as “fruits and vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, and horticulture and nursery crops (including floriculture),” have only been included in the farm bill since 2008. Support for these crops is only a small portion of the farm bill, and the support is structured differently than that for commodity crops. As described by the Congressional Research Service, the support is indirect and benefits producers as a whole, not individually—“These types of programs include marketing and promotion programs, crop insurance and disaster assistance, plant pest and disease protections, trade assistance, and research and extension services, among other types of indirect support.” In addition to support for specialty crops, the Horticulture title provides funds for farmers’ markets and the promotion of local foods and to benefit producers of certified organic foods.

Issues involving specialty crops include whether funding should be increased for price and income supports for these crops and whether crop insurance (Title 11) should be expanded to include more producers of fruits and vegetables.

Conservation—Title 2

The farm bill contains both mandatory and voluntary conservation programs. For example, before receiving crop insurance premium support, producers must show that they have complied with certain conservation programs regarding highly erodible lands and wetlands. The 2014 Conservation Title contains approximately 10 conservation programs, including the Conservation Reserve Program, which pays farmers to replace crops on highly erodible lands and wetlands with conservation plantings, and the Equipment Quality Incentives Program, which provides assistance to farmers to implement practices that will conserve environmentally sensitive land.

Critics of the farm bill’s conservation programs argue that the farm bill as a whole has encouraged agriculture that is environmentally devastating and that price and income supports and crop insurance policies need to be reworked to encourage sustainable agriculture, in addition to a reworking of the conservation title. Moreover, the conservation title needs to include resources to measure how well its programs work.

In 2015, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee recommended that the Guidelines include sustainability as part of its dietary advice. Ultimately, the recommendation was not followed, but this issue will come up again when the 2020 Dietary Guidelines are discussed. A renewed emphasis on conservation in the 2018 farm bill may resonate with this recognition of the connection between dietary health and environmental sustainability.

In short, the farm bill has an immense effect on the US food system, including in its mechanisms for encouraging which crops are produced and in what way, and in the bill’s control over our nation’s main food assistance program, SNAP. Its complexity and diffuse nature obscure the interconnectedness of the bill, and the political nature of so many of its provisions makes it all the more difficult to assess the legislation as a whole.

by Diana R. H. Winters

Crossposted from Health Affairs blog

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