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September 11, 2012

Congress Unlikely to Pass 2012 Farm Bill in Time
    by Robert Kropp

As severe cuts in the food stamp program and assistance to farmers seem more likely, the responsibility for building a sustainable food supply falls to sustainable investors and other key stakeholders.

SocialFunds.com -- Last month, RSF Social Finance reported that creating a sustainable food system in which everyone has equitable access to healthy, fresh, and safe food "requires sufficient production of healthy food in every region of the US; widespread distribution systems to ensure adequate physical access to food; nutrition assistance for low-income families; education about basic nutrition; and changes in food preparation and consumption habits."

Many of the steps documented by RSF, a non-profit financial services organization, require robust government policies to ensure that access to healthy foods, and education about nutrition, are available to low-income families. Yet as the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) warns, there is a growing likelihood that Congress will fail to pass a 2012 Farm Bill before the current bill expires on September 30th.

That the Republican Party chose Paul Ryan as its vice-presidential candidate increases the possibility that passing a bill by the end of this month will not occur, according to NSAC. "Ryan is a leading critic of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps, and also has called for cuts to farm programs more than twice as large as those contained in the Senate and House Committee-passed bills," the organization states.

Neither the Senate nor the House version of the bill spares farmers and low-income families from budget cuts, although the Senate version does restore funding for the SNAP program (although it reduces the funding by $4.5 billion over the next 10 years) and provides assistance to beginning farmers. The House version, however, would reduce the number of food stamp recipients by an estimated two million people.

Also, "Key programs that create jobs in rural America, seize market opportunities for farmers and small businesses, and ensure the success of the next generation of farmers will run out of funding if Congress does not reauthorize or extend and fund these programs," NSAC warned.

Furthermore, funding for conservation programs is endangered as well. "Conservation funding has been hit time and again because our lawmakers have placed more importance on production subsidies and paying producers for losses rather than rewarding them for smart land management," NSAC observed.

As with other critically important issues such as climate change and financial reform, it does not appear that American citizens can look to their legislators for help in building a sustainable food supply. Congressional inaction makes the investment decisions of sustainable investors all the more important. As Taryn Goodman, RSF's Director of Impact Investing, stated upon the publication of the organization's report, "Just as the creation of a healthier food system will require creativity and innovative solutions, so will the capital needed to support it."

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