Every five years, Congress passes a Farm Bill—a massive piece of legislation that covers crop subsidies, food stamps, conservation, energy policy on ethanol and renewables, and more. Fundamentally, the Farm Bill is about continuing and promoting the current Agribusiness model, supporting conventional production and anonymous distribution systems for the benefit of a handful of massive corporations.
In the long run, we have to build enough grassroots political power to change that fundamental approach. In the short run, with this Farm Bill, our best opportunity lies in making changes in a few specific areas.
First, we must protect local control. The House version of the Farm Bill would prohibit any state or local government from adopting any standard or condition on the production or manufacture of any agricultural product that is sold in interstate commerce. This would eliminate laws adopted by local communities to address problems like dicamba pesticide drift, or to set standards for food quality and animal welfare, and even laws that simply allow consumers to know whether their purchases support their local farming communities. If we want a resurgence in local food systems, we need to keep local control and take this dangerous provision out of the Farm Bill!
Second, we can remove barriers to local, small-scale meat production. FTCLDF has been urging the passage of the PRIME Act, which would allow states to set their own standards for meat processed at “custom” slaughterhouses and sold within their borders. The best chance for this bill to pass is as an amendment to the Farm Bill.
Third, we can reduce the taxes imposed on our farmers, while simultaneously reducing the money flowing to big Agribusiness organizations. The innocuous sounding “Checkoff” programs tax farmers—including those selling directly to consumers—to pay for advertising campaigns designed by and for conventional commodities. Moreover, that money often subsidizes Agribusiness organizations that lobby against things our farmers and consumers want, from raw milk to country of origin labeling. In the last Farm Bill, an amendment was introduced to make the Checkoffs voluntary, so no farmer would be forced to pay into them—and a renewed attempt to pass that amendment is expected in this Farm Bill.
The House of Representatives is expected to vote on the Farm Bill next week. Right now, it’s not certain if any of these issues will even be allowed to be introduced as amendments, and we need your help!
WHAT CAN I DO?
Step 1: Call your U.S. Representative and urge him or her to vote NO on the Farm Bill unless important changes are made.
Step 2: Call both of your U.S. Senators and urge them to fix these problems in the Senate version of the bill, which is currently being developed.
Take a few minutes before you call to think about why each of these issues—local control, access to local meats, and taxing farmers to promote Big Ag—matters to you. Use the information at the end of this alert to help you personalize your talking points.
When you call, ask to speak to the staffer who handles agricultural issues. If you are directed to their voicemail, go ahead and leave a detailed message based on the script below and your notes.
Yes, this takes more thought that hitting a button on an auto email system. But it takes just a few minutes of thinking about what you want to say, and then three or four minutes per call—and your impact is literally hundreds of times greater than an auto email!
Thank you for speaking up for our farmers and local food producers!
TAKE ACTION #1: Call your U.S. Representative
You can find out who represents you by going to www.house.gov or by calling the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121.
Please be sure to personalize your message—it’s better to leave out some of our points, and add your own perspective, than to simply read from a script! This sample message for calls is just to help you get started and organize your thoughts:
Hi, I’m ___ from ___. I am a __________ [farmer, local food consumer, chef.]
As a constituent, I urge Representative ___ to vote no on the Farm Bill unless it is amended to address some key problems.
First, add the PRIME Act, H.R. 2657/ S. 1232. This bill addresses the severe shortage of processing facilities for small-scale producers in many areas of this country. It allows states to set their own standards for meat that is processed and sold within the state directly to consumers, providing more options for livestock farmers and the consumers who want locally raised meat.
Second, make the Checkoffs voluntary by adding H.R. 1752 / S. 740. The Checkoffs tax farmers for marketing programs that don’t help those providing distinctive products for niche markets. By promoting commodities—beef, pork, milk—the Checkoffs encourage consumers to think that all the products are the same, which undermines specialty markets for locally raised, grass-fed, and other niche markets. Farmers should be able to choose whether to pay their hard-earned money for marketing programs run by private associations.
Third, protect local control. Agriculture is inherently local—its impacts depend on the soil, the climate, and the community’s needs. It’s vital that states and local governments retain the power to respond to their constituents’ needs and interests. The King Amendment, which preempts local and state laws, would attack not only citizen referenda on things like cage-free eggs, but also local and state provisions that promote locally raised food and even restrictions intended to protect producers from diseases or pests from other states.
Please let me know where the Representative stands on these issues. My phone number is ______. Thank you.
TAKE ACTION #2: Call your U.S. Senators
You can find out who represents you by going to www.senate.gov/senators/contact or by calling the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121.
Sample message for calls/ voice mails/ emails:
Hi, I’m ___ from ___. I am a __________ [farmer, local food consumer, chef.]
As a constituent, I urge Senator ___ to work to ensure that important changes are made in the Senate version of the bill, as compared to the House version.
[Same list of issues as above]
Please let me know where the Senator stands on these issues. My phone number is ______. Thank you.
The discussion below provides more information on each of the points in the sample call scripts. Don’t try to cover all of this in your calls with your legislators! Pick the issues that matter to you and choose one or two points for each issue that you want to focus on.
Local Meat Production & the PRIME Act
Lack of inspected slaughterhouses is one of the biggest barriers for small-scale livestock producers. The lack of reasonable access to a slaughterhouse keeps some farmers from selling their meat at all. For many more, the distance they must travel to the slaughterhouse means significantly increased costs, as well as stress on the animal and lost time on the farm—all of which means less supply and higher prices for consumers.
Current federal law prohibits the sale of meat from “custom” slaughterhouses, which are regulated by the states independently of USDA regulations.
H.R. 2657/ S.1232, the PRIME Act, would empower states to not only set their own standards for custom slaughterhouses, as they already do, but to allow the sale within their state of custom-slaughtered beef, pork, lamb, and goat to consumers, restaurants, and grocery stores.
Adding the PRIME Act to the Farm Bill would open opportunities for small farmers and improve consumer access to locally raised meats.
Checkoffs & Taxes on Farmers
Under federal law, farmers of certain commodities (including pork, eggs, beef, and milk) are required to pay a portion of their sales into Checkoff funds. These mandatory fees are intended to be used to research and promote demand for those products. Campaigns such as “Got Milk?” and “Pork, the other white meat” are paid for by these taxes on farmers. Checkoff programs collect tens of millions of dollars from America’s farmers and ranchers every year.
Nothing in the Checkoffs promotes local, organic, or sustainable production. To the contrary, the basic message is that all the foods are interchangeable commodities; conventional CAFO beef, imported beef, and the grass-fed beef from the farmer in your town are all rolled into: “Beef, it’s what for dinner.”
Even worse, the dairy checkoff has used its funds for public ad campaigns and “educational programs” for dietitians that actively oppose raw milk access. It’s not just the CDC and FDA working to convince Americans that raw milk is dangerous—it’s also Big Dairy, using our own farmers’ money to try to kill their businesses!
Moreover, these funds often wind up in the pockets of industrialized agriculture trade organizations. While they can’t use the money directly for lobbying, the funding helps them grow by underwriting their overhead, travel costs, etc.—and then they are free to use their other funds to lobby against the interests of family farmers, such as by opposing country of origin labeling.
There are bills in the House and Senate to reform the Checkoff programs. The Opportunities for Fairness in Farming Act, S. 741/ H.R. 1753, would prohibit lobbying, rein in conflicts of interest, and stop anti-competitive activities that harm other commodities and consumers. The Voluntary Checkoff Act, S. 740 / H.R. 1752, would ensure no farmer or rancher is forced to pay fees into programs that do not promote their market segment—the simplest and fairest solution to this problem.
Representative King’s bill to strip local control of food and agriculture was incorporated into the House Agriculture Committee’s version of the Farm Bill. The provision would prohibit any state or local government from adopting any standard or condition on the production or manufacture of any agricultural product that is sold in interstate commerce.
The bill mandates a one-size-fits-all approach for environmental standards, labor rights, animal welfare, and community safety. It would eliminate laws adopted by local communities to address problems like dicamba pesticide drift, to set standards for food quality and animal welfare (such as cage-free eggs or crate-free veal), and even laws that simply allow consumers to know whether their purchases support their local farming communities.
State and local laws that would be negated include:
- Labeling and sale criteria for maple syrup, farm-raised fish, and many more
- Farm production standards related to the transport of commodities and livestock, farm labor safeguards, and agriculture chemical use standards
- Farmer and rural community protections like bans on importing diseased product (firewood, bee colonies, etc.), fertilizer application standards, and fencing requirements
- Consumer protection such as BPA-free baby food containers, perishable food labeling, and labeling of consumer chemicals known to cause birth defects
Thank you for taking action to support food freedom. We will update you as soon as we have more information.
YOUR FUND AT WORK
Services provided by FTCLDF go beyond legal representation for members in court cases.
Educational and policy work also provide an avenue for FTCLDF to build grassroots activism to create the most favorable regulatory climate possible. In addition to advising on bill language, FTCLDF supports favorable legislation via action alerts and social media outreach.
You can help FTCLDF by becoming a member or donating today.