The US farm bill is a poster-child for democracy at its worst: a baffling combination of factory farm subsidies, food stamps and conservation efforts, stapled together to appease every possible American voting group and corporate lobby. Lost in the mess is any effort to fix the towering problems of big agriculture that are bleeding local farmers, fattening up consumers and making the planet hungrier.
Here's just one of the problems: the US offers more international aid than any other country, but the farm bill insists that American products must be used wherever possible to deliver it. That makes the whole business more expensive and less effective, and it can severely damage local food systems. For instance, flood Haiti with government-subsidised US-grown rice, and local rice growers have a problem.
The new omnibus farm bill will come up for a vote again this summer, as it does about every five years. The bill tends to be longer than Tolstoy's War and Peace, and far harder to understand. But its disastrous effects are simple enough to be explained by an elephant and a donkey. This clip from Oxfam America, starring the mascots of the Republican and Democratic parties, shows how:
Take action: If you live in America, petition Congress to stop playing games with our food. And wherever you live, educate yourself: the Atlantic has compiled a list of sites and articles tackling the content and politics of the bill. Read all these pieces and you'll know more than most of the congressmen who have to vote on it.