Last week 25 FBLE faculty, students, and staff descended on Capitol Hill to share our research and help Congress write a farm bill that creates opportunity for all farmers, provides a reliable safety net against hunger, and conserves the health of our shared natural resources.

Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic students and staff with Rep. Chellie Pingree (ME) in her office.

FBLE timed the trip to coincide with debate over the House farm bill, H.R. 2, which came to the floor this week. As we’ve explained elsewhere on this blog, H.R. 2 contains policy changes that would harm farmers, eaters and the environment.

“The best moment of the trip was a conversation with a conservative member’s staff.

Although we all did not agree on the role of SNAP plays in a person’s life, we came to a consensus that a work requirement, as designed in the current house bill, would hurt and not help people on the program.” -Gordon Merrick, Vermont Law School

Over the course of the day, 9 groups held 77 meetings with legislators and staffers on both sides of the House and Senate. During these meetings, organized in conjunction with Food Policy Action, FBLE partners shared research and findings from FBLE’s recently published reports and discussed concerns about policies in the house version of the farm bill that do not align with report recommendations.

Each group focused on specific areas of concern as they met with legislators and their staff. Some focused on recommendations from FBLE’s report, Food Access, Nutrition, and Public Health, and highlighted the dangers of the proposed expansion of work requirements within the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

“It was very interesting to get a window into the political process … My work with FBLE was invaluable to being able to speak competently and confidently on both SNAP and local food programs.” -Mary Stottele, Harvard Law School

Others discussed how local food programs touted in FBLE’s report Diversified Agricultural Economies face deep cuts or outright elimination if H.R. 2 becomes law. If Congress cannot pass a farm bill before the current law expires in September, many of the “tiny but might” fresh, healthy and local foods programs will disappear. If we get to September without a new farm bill, Congress will almost certainly be forced to extend provisions of the 2014 Farm Bill. If this comes to pass, it is critical that these small programs receive special attention since they would not survive under the terms of a simple extension.

“This was direct participatory democracy at its best. Having the chance to engage in these conversations, and especially to have the opportunity to understand where those with differing views were coming from and explore opportunities for bipartisan agreement, was exciting and heartening.” -Emilie Aguirre, UCLA Resnick Program for Food Law and Policy

Still other groups outlined FBLE’s concerns that H.R. 2’s would exacerbate existing farm subsidy loopholes and weaken critical conservation programs, as discussed in FBLE’s report, Productivity and Risk Management. For example, we spoke directly with Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), Chairman of the powerful House Freedom Caucus, and shared that in North Carolina the largest 3% of farms receive over 80% of farm bill subsidies. Mr. Meadows eagerly accepted our research showing H.R. 2 would expand loopholes that further increase the subsidy disparities between mega-farms and the great majority of farms in his district.

Finally, several groups focused on educating lawmakers on the Protect Interstate Commerce Act (PICA)–the so-called “King Amendment”–an extraordinary provision included in H.R. 2 that would prohibit states from enforcing their own laws when they set higher standards than other states. As a recent analysis from our colleagues at the Harvard Animal Law and Policy Program shows, no one is able to predict the consequences of this language, which would “fundamentally transform the balance of regulatory authority between the states and the federal government by eliminating virtually all state legislative police powers with respect to any agricultural product entering a state for sale.”

Through all of these meetings, we were able to advance FBLE’s recommendations for creating a more equitable farm bill with better opportunities for all farmers, a better safety net against hunger, and better conservation of the natural resources we share. Stay tuned for more analysis in the coming days!

FBLE members outside the office of Rep. Lujan (NM) before a meeting.