Kuntz: Farm bill supports public health


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On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid reintroduced the Farm Bill, which successfully passed the Senate last year in hopes that renewed effort will launch the bill through the House of Representatives and to the White House, where it could then be signed into law for the next five years.

As its name suggests, the Farm Bill directly affects farmers, but the great bulk of the bill pertains to public health. In fact, 68 percent of all funding in the Farm Bill, approximately $190 billion, is appropriated for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which was formerly known as the food-stamps program. Furthermore, the proposal that passed the Senate has important measures for the environment, and it is a bill all Iowans must support.

The Farm Bill, while crucial to farmers, is really a matter of supporting public health. Iowans must demand strength and support for the bill from their Congressional leaders so that there may be increased security not only for farmers but also for the environment and the hungry.

“The public-health parts of the farm bill are many,” said David Osterberg, a University of Iowa associate clinical professor of occupational and environmental health. “Food is the real important issue, but also in the Farm Bill is renewable energy, and we should all be concerned about climate change.”  

When more than 415,000 Iowans rely on Iowa’s Food Assistance Program, there is no doubt whether a bill of this magnitude must be passed.

“I think in the past there has been sort of a deal between rural people and urban people,” Osterberg said. “If there aren’t food and nutrition programs, I don’t think there would be a farm bill.”

While the food-assistance aspect of the bill has proven less controversial, the renewable-energy stipulations have been a great hurdle in the passage of this legislation.

Most troubling for large, industrial farmers is “conservation compliance,” which simply means that if a farm is receiving benefits from the Farm Bill, that farm must comply with the soil- and water-conservation stipulations.

“There are big industries that are working to try to keep that out of the bill,” Osterberg said.
Of course, climate change is a real danger to all Americans. The UI has proven itself a leader in environmental sustainability, but there is still room for improvement on this campus and throughout the rest of the state.

“If the Earth increases in temperature by 6 degrees Fahrenheit, as an entire species, we are going to be much less healthy,” Osterberg said. “This is the biggest environmental issue that we have come across, and to the extent the Farm Bill is such a big deal.”

However, many still question the potential success of the Farm Bill. While the New Year’s deal allowed the 2008 Farm Bill to be extended for one year, the questions that lingered last year are sure to be relevant again. But perhaps without the distraction of the election season, Congress may be able to increase its approval rating from 18 percent, and an environmental and public health conscious Farm Bill may pass.

“I think it is likely to pass, but I don’t know what it is going to look like when it passes,” Osterberg said. “The question is will it be an environmental farm bill for the sake of public health or will it fold for special-interest groups?”

The Farm Bill, reintroduced Tuesday, is critical to Iowa farmers, Iowa’s economy, Iowa’s hungry people and Iowa’s environment. It is critical that Iowans support the Farm Bill and that our leaders support Iowans.

It is time to see the Senate-passed Farm Bill, with all its environmental and the nutrition-assistance program, become the farm law.

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