Nancy Pelosi Makes Food Activists Mad

It was all so hopeful there for a while. With the groundswell of interest in food politics spurred by Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma last year, and the attention being paid to issues such as corn subsidies, there was hope that real reform might happen with this year’s version of the Farm Bill. But Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is looking to rubber-stamp a bill that actually increases corn subsidies. The food activist community is outraged.

According to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, Pelosi has “hailed as reform a bill that would grant subsidies to farmers earning up to $1 million — five times more than the cap sought by the Bush administration.” The bill, which was finished last Thursday by the House Agriculture Committee, “leaves the big commodity programs intact for cotton, corn, wheat, rice, soybeans and a handful of other crops that have been subsidized since the Dust Bowl in the 1930s.”

According to commentary on the Ethicurean website, “Pelosi’s main goal in supporting the Ag Committee’s version … is to protect the seats of newly elected House members from farming districts (yet again, the Democrats put politics before principles).”

‘[W]e’ve actually increased the rates at which we support prices’ for subsidized crops, said Daniel Sumner, a leading farm economist and director of the Agricultural Issues Center at UC Davis. ‘We’ve really done nothing of a significant nature to change those programs. ... I think that’s a mistake for the country.’

Things are getting a little nasty, with the chair of the House Agriculture Committee, Minnesota Democrat Collin Peterson, saying, “Most people in the city have no concept of what’s going on here.”

Even city folk might smell a rat when 46 members of the Ag Committee bring 42 percent of the crop subsidy money back to their districts (that would be $320 million in corn subsidies for Peterson’s district over the next five years). And some of those farmers receiving subsidies are dead! According to an article in the Washington Post, there was $1.1 billion paid to deceased farmers over seven years.

You know things are getting tense when Michael Pollan—who prefers to encourage people to draw their own conclusions rather than telling them what to do—is sending out Nancy Pelosi’s phone number to his mailing list in case people want to complain. As Ken Cook writes on the agriculture issues blog Mulch (which also has a great analysis of the corn subsidy situation), “If you eat, pay taxes, worry about the environment and are fed up with the subsidy status quo, it’s time to make some noise.”

Not much time though: A vote on the bill has been scheduled for Thursday.