Last Summer, I was feeling pretty optimistic about opportunities for change within the upcoming 2012 Farm Bill.
Already, hearings by the House Agriculture Committee had indicated that this Bill might be characterized by greater citizen involvement (meaning that lobbies were no longer the only ones attending these meetings and having their voices heard). Advocates who were concerned about child nutrition, animal rights, and environmental protection had turned out in surprising numbers in 2008, and these groups were returning this year with even greater force. Even the head of the House Agriculture Committee, Collin Peterson, had noted that he thoughts it would “be very difficult to pass a status-quo farm bill in 2012.”
There was even a space for labor advocates; as was written here back in October, there was certainly hope that “if labor groups mobilize for 2012 as conservationists and nutritionists did for 2008, farm workers could win a few nominal nods”.
Now, just over a month later, the political climate has shifted dramatically. The mid-term elections in November have changed the partisan structure of our Congress. The results – massive republican gains – have induced anxiety among democrats and liberals who were excited about pushing for legislative reform and moving beyond the political status quo.
Although they are still unclear, these changes will have important implications for our food and farm policy.
The drafting of the 2012 Farm Bill takes place primarily within the Agriculture Committees in the House and Senate. This November, sixteen of the twenty-eight Democrats on the House Committee lost their seats, as did Senate Committee Chairwoman Blanche Lincoln.
Clearly, new leadership and membership will change the rhetoric of the Committees. But I am actually not convinced that Democratic losses need to thwart reform in 2012. In fact, I am still optimistic that change is possible if citizens mobilize in favor of reform. Beyond this, I am hopeful that the openings in the Agriculture Committees might be filled by a different breed of politician, who will listen to different interest groups and look critically at our commodity policies.
The implications of the 2010 elections are still unclear, but I hope that labor groups – in particular – will not be put off by what feels like a climate of political disillusionment and uncertainty. As was evidenced in the 2008 Farm Bill, grassroots advocacy can have real and meaningful implications for our federal policy.
For a really great analysis of how the mid-term elections might impact our Farm Bill, check out Andy Fisher’s article on Civil Eats, where he asks how we can translate the public’s interest in reform into real policy change.