January 4, 2012

Where is Public Health in the Farm Bill?

Desmond Flagg

Desmond Flagg

Research Assistant

Center for a Livable Future

Agree/Disagree: The Farm Bill is a Public Health bill. 

For those of you who agree, give yourself a pat on the back!  For those of you who do not believe that the Farm Bill is a Public Health bill, read on, and we just might convince you.

As Roni Neff, PhD, Research and Policy Director for the Center for a Livable Future, explains, the Farm Bill affects the health of the American public in at least five important ways:

  1. It impacts what we eat
  2. It has a profound effect upon the health and sustainability of the environment
  3. It impacts both long-term and short-term food security
  4. It promotes equity in food access and in others ways
  5. It affects the welfare and wellbeing of farmers and other rural Americans

What we Eat

Farmers are businessmen and businesswomen, and as such, farmers plant what is profitable.  Economic incentives within the Farm Bill, such as Direct Payments and Export Credit Guarantees—which help offset farming costs for domestic and international distribution respectively—make grains (corn, soybeans, wheat, rice. etc.) the most highly subsidized type of food to grow. In addition, insurance programs, like Supplemental Revenue Assistance Payments (SURE)—which provides assistance to farmers suffering crop losses due to natural disasters— also make grains the safest food to grow.

The relatively lower availability—and higher cost—of fruits and vegetables within the food environment is due in part to the absence of comparable incentives and insurance protections within the Farm Bill for farmers to grow them.

Health and Sustainability of the Environment

Even those of us without green thumbs (myself included) understand that farming—through tilling and the use of fertilizers, pesticides, and other chemical agents—can destroy the soil and water quality of both the immediate and surrounding environment. Advocates have been able to educate legislators on this fact as well, which is why programs to encourage farmers to adopt more environmentally-friendly practices, such as the Conservation Reserve Program and the Conservation Stewardship Program, were included in the most recent Farm Bill. It is important that advocates continue to outreach and educate legislators, however, to ensure that these programs continue to appear in upcoming Farm Bills as well.

Food Security

Do you know what the largest program in Farm Bill is? No, it’s not subsidies. It’s the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP—formerly known as “food stamps”).  Initiatives such as the Farmers Market Nutrition Program, and the Healthy Urban Food Enterprise Development Center also seek to improve food security.


How can new and inexperienced farmers possibly compete with well-established corporate farming giants? How can socially disadvantaged “outsiders” operate within a “known-man” industry like farming? The answers to these questions undoubtedly involve hard work, dedication, perseverance, and assistance from equity-promoting initiatives within the Farm Bill, such as the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, Outreach for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers, and Farm Ownership and Operating Loans.

Welfare and Wellbeing of Farmers

Did you know that there are programs within the Farm Bill that specifically address waste water disposal and telemedicine in rural America? Well, you do now.  Click the “Rural Development and Health” tab within the Farm Bill Budget Visualizer to find out more.


  1. Posted by Charlene

    I am quite pleased to see the rigor of research being conducted to confront the increasing levels of obesity observed in the US. I am also delighted to see such an intelligent, young African American male engaged in the project!

  2. Posted by Sabrina

    This information is not only interesting but timely given the needs of urban residents who may live in “food deserts.” Thanks also for noting the SNAP and Farm Bill connection.

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