To the Editor:
Since passage of the farm bill earlier this month, there has been a full-court press to discredit the legislation. I felt the need to set the record straight on several key points that have not been accurately reflected in editorials and commentary on the farm bill.
Yes, it’s true that this new farm bill provides stability and certainty to U.S. producers on whom Americans rely to ensure a productive, reliable and inexpensive food supply.
However, the farm bill does not include the massive increases in spending critics like to suggest. In fact, spending is increased in a manner consistent with U.S. farm policy since passage of the 1996 Freedom to Farm Act. Opponents of the 2002 farm bill say it increases farm spending by 60 or 70 percent. That might technically be correct if you disregard supplemental appropriations passed by Congress in 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2001 that added $30.5 billion in farm spending.
If you look at the whole picture, the increase in annual farm spending is roughly the same as it has been over the past four years – about $7.5 billion per year. The only difference is that farmers and ranchers now have stability and don’t have to fight the supplemental appropriation battle in Congress each year. This is responsible from both a farm and a fiscal policy perspective.
When someone alleges that the farm bill violates U.S. commitments under the World Trade Organization, they are just plain wrong. One of the landmark measures in the farm bill is that it requires U.S. farm spending to be in compliance with our existing trade agreements.
Our international competitors are the ones leading the charge against the farm bill. To say foreign criticism is the proverbial “pot calling the kettle black” is an understatement. It is more like the pot calling the kettle gray.
While our competitors complain about our level of farm spending under WTO rules, these countries are able to spend much, much more to support their farmers – and they do. The United States is limited to spending $19.1 billion in farm subsidies under the WTO. The European Community’s limit is $60 billion. Japan’s spending cap is $30 billion.
But the farm bill does much more to help Americans and unfortunately those positive aspects have received very little attention. The farm bill provides record-level support for new conservation and environmental program – an 80 percent increase – to preserve America’s wetlands and improve soil and water quality. It also helps low-income Americans by increasing assistance for food stamp and important nutrition programs for children. This farm bill contains strong energy provisions, looking to agriculture for renewable energy sources and solutions. And, the farm bill invests more for critical research, food safety, animal and plant disease protections, trade development and rural communities.
When President Bush signed the farm bill into law, he said it wasn’t a perfect bill – none ever is. But the American people need to know all the facts about the farm bill rather than just the latest spin from those who look at farm policy from a very narrow perspective.
Ann M. Veneman
Secretary of Agriculture
U.S. Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20250-1300