Thursday, November 25, 2010

Don’t forget the Lame Duck this Turkey Day! (Updates on Food Safety and Child Nutrition Legislation)

HildeAs we gather with family and friends this Thanksgiving holiday, there is much to be thankful for. At the top of our list here at Farm Aid, and we hope yours too: America’s hardworking family farmers who care for our land and bring good food to our tables every day of the year.

While there are many ways we can honor family farmers this holiday season, there is one important measure that may not come immediately to mind as you busy yourself with menu planning and last minute dusting – picking up the phone and calling your Congressional Reps.

After a short recess for Thanksgiving, Congress will reconvene in D.C. for what’s called a “lame duck” session. (Not sure who came up with that name, but I’d sure like to shake their hand for adding a little levity to a tenuous time of year). The lame duck comes around after an election year as Congress prepares to say farewell to its outgoing members, but before their successors have taken office in January. This year, as you may have heard, marks a major shift in both the House and Senate. With that shift comes some urgency to get certain legislation through the door that may lose momentum or key champions with the changes in Congress. And regardless of who’s coming and going, the lame duck also represents the last chance for some bills to see the light of day. Once the new year begins, so must the process of consideration and debate, and for most bills – that means starting from scratch.

There are two legislative efforts we’ve been covering over the past year that have huge implications for family farmers--and eaters alike--and are critical to push through the finish line during the lame duck session. We need all of your added muscle to get them there!

The first is Food Safety legislation, the source of much heartburn over the past year (some deserved and some unnecessary) and so crucial for consumer health and the future of our farm and food system. This legislation is intended to enact some long overdue measures to safeguard consumers from food-borne illness. The bill seems to have the commitment of Congress to move forward; the key issue is whether it will do so with the Manager’s Amendment, which is critical to ensuring the legislation supports a diversity of farmers and production types, as well as the growing demand for local and regional markets, rather than a one-size fits all approach catered to the largest and most industrial operations. Our partners in DC, who have years of experience speaking for family farmers and sustainable agriculture organizations, have been working long and hard for the past 18 months to ensure there is decent language to prevent the bill from damaging small and diversified farms and direct markets. The bill goes to vote on Monday, November 29th, and there’s still time to call your Senators (1-877-481-9966) and let them know that it needs to pass with the Manager’s Amendment.

The second, Child Nutrition legislation, is a long overdue reauthorization of federally supported feeding programs geared toward our nation’s 31 million school children. As the obesity epidemic continues to take hold of even our youngest generations, this bill couldn’t be more timely or critical as it will improve school meals and feed even more hungry children. What we like most about the bill is that it includes new measures that would support Farm to School programs, benefiting farmers, communities and children alike, while supporting infrastructure for local and regional markets to continue to grow and strengthen. This important reauthorization has already been delayed once, and must pass in the coming days if it is to have a chance. While you’re calling your Reps about Food Safety legislation, let Congress know that passing the Child Nutrition bill with the Farm to School funding is a national priority too.

We know it can be tough trying to keep up with all the “sausage making” going on in DC these days, especially with all the corporate interests and partisan bickering muddying the waters – but the outcomes can have significant impacts on family farmers and the future of our food system for years to come. Each and every one of us has a stake in ensuring that the policies and regulations coming out of Washington support our vision for a vibrant system of family-farm agriculture in this country, and good food for all.

And once you’ve called your Congressional Reps, if you’d like to take a crack at sausage making yourself, here’s a link to a sausage-making pictorial on HOMEGROWN.org!

Happy Thanksgiving all!

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