Farm Bill + Global Ag Report = Deeper Ag Policy Stories

April 30, 2008

On Apr. 15, 2008, an international group of more than 400 agricultural scientists and experts released a major report on the outlook for global agriculture - really a series of reports. The nut graph: If government, industry, and farmers don't halt environmentally harmful farming processes, chronic food scarcity will become a way of life for more people than ever before.

The skyrocketing of prices for basic food commodities has complex causes that go beyond environmental degradation and ag policy itself- climate change, the energy crunch, and a weakening dollar, to name just a few. But as food riots become more common, "more of the same" policies do not seem to be working.

The report recommends immediate and fundamental change not just to agricultural practices, but also social policy and economics. An Apr. 29, 2008, Des Moines Register letter to the editor by reader Patrick Bosold sums it up fairly well:

"This report was commissioned in partnership with the United Nations after a group of biotech companies asked the World Bank what it thought of genetic-engineering technology as an agricultural strategy for developing countries. The IAASTD Global Report roundly rejects biotechnology and modern-industrial farming as a viable solution to the problems of soaring food prices, hunger, social injustice and environmental degradation. The IAASTD report calls for a major paradigm shift that would place strong focus on small-scale farming and agro-ecological farming methods to feed local communities, address social inequities and protect the environment while scaling back energy-intensive, chemical agriculture and addressing trade imbalances that hurt the rural poor."

Meanwhile in Congress, the Farm Bill debate is finally heating up after last November's Senate stalemate. The bill is now in conference, with meetings held this week.

In the US, both the farm bill and global food crisis are getting significant news coverage - including a major Washington Post multimedia series, currently in progress. However, the new IAASTD reports could add an interesting new wrinkle for environmental reporters - perhaps on the level of how the IPCC reports shaped public discourse and news coverage of global warming.

Here are a range of perspectives worth considering as you flesh out these angles:

  • CropLife America, a major pesticide and biotech trade organization, has strongly criticized and questioned IAASTD's findings and recommendations. Rex A. Runyon, 202-872-3884.
  • In January 2008, the Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (a "national alliance of family farm, rural, and conservation organizations supporting long-term economic and environmental sustainability of agriculture, natural resources, and rural communities") published five Farm Bill fact sheets in Grist.org. It includes a matrix comparing the House and Senate Bill versions. Press: Aimee Witteman, 202-547-5754.
  • The blog FarmPolicy.com (produced by experienced ag journalists) provides an excellent ongoing overview and analysis of current farm bill developments.
  • A harsh economic criticism of IAASTD reports ran in the Apr. 25 Toronto Globe & Mail by Douglas Southgate, OH State Univ. professor of agricultural economics.