Federal Farm Bill, 2002

Authors: Partnership for Prevention, UCLA School of Public Health

Location: United States

Completion Date: December 2004

HIA Report: The 2002 Federal Farm Bill

Summary of the HIA

Proposed Policy or Project

Historically the Federal Farm Bill, which is subject to reauthorization every five years, was intended to stabilize the nation’s food supply by controlling agricultural commodity prices and production levels by redistributing risk from individual farmers in one season to taxpayers over many years. To this end, the Bill provides financial assistance to farmers through subsidy programs. Prevalent ideology on how best to stabilize agricultural production has, however, evolved in recent years In 1996 agricultural policy shifted away from subsidizing small family farms in favor of large, corporate farms. The 2002 Farm Bill, which will be in effect until 2011, continues this trend, further decreasing agricultural subsidies to small farmers. The ten titles of the Farm Bill mandate a wide range of changes that include:

  • Expansion of agricultural commodity price support and marketing programs;
  • Increased spending for conservation programs;
  • New regulations governing international trade of agricultural products;
  • Expansion of research programs in forestry and bio-energy;
  • Increased funding for rural development;
  • Expansion of the Food Stamp program.

The Farm Bill increases spending by $82.8 billion over the next ten years to a total of $458.7 billion.

Background and Policy Context

The 2002 Federal Farm Bill is a major piece of legislation whose provisions include a vast array of regulations and funding for programs. The Bill is likely to have noteworthy beneficial and detrimental health effects on the U.S. population which stem primarily from provisions relating to nutrition, bio-energy, and agricultural subsidies. In addition, the 2002 Farm Bill’s expansion on agricultural subsidies will have global health impacts by affecting the economy and threatening the livelihoods of small farmers worldwide.

Scope and Methods

This health impact assessment highlights aspects of the new Farm Bill most likely to influence health. The HIA aims to help policy makers understand the linkages between policy change, intermediates and health outcomes. The assessment investigates five major pathways through which the new legislation can impact health status:

  1. Dietary Consumption
  2. Food Safety
  3. Rural Income and Quality of Life
  4. Air Pollution
  5. Environmental degradation

This HIA does not provide exhaustive documentation of all potential health impacts nor does it quantify the potential impacts, as appropriate data are currently unavailable. The health impacts of ethanol production and changes to farm subsidy policy are supported by the most data, however, and are detailed in the assessment. Agriculture is intimately intertwined with a number of diverse areas; economics, environment, energy, nutrition, and rural development. As such, the 2002 Farm Bill will have far reaching direct and indirect affects on food production and consumption, land conservation, and air pollution levels all of which have potential health impacts. This HIA does not provide exhaustive documentation of all potential health impacts of the Farm Bill; rather it attempts to highlight those areas deemed most prominent, in particular farm subsidies and ethanol production. The full scope and magnitude of most of these potential effects cannot be ascertained without substantial increases in available data. Further, even within areas for which more data is available, the conclusions of different experts hinge largely on different assumptions in competing quantitative models. The purpose of this HIA then is to demonstrate the linkages between agriculture policy changes and health outcomes as an example of how HIA can be used as a tool for swift assessment of a national policy's impacts on health.

Summary of Findings

There is no clear relationship between changes in farm subsidy policy and consumption patterns. In addition to a number of socio-cultural factors, price and available income drive consumer food choices. The changes to commodity programs and subsidy-levels affect the costs of production, which can in turn affect the price consumers pay for food. Despite the connection between subsidies and eventual food prices, farm prices make up only a small fraction of final retail prices and consumer responsiveness to price changes. Therefore, changes in subsidies are unlikely to have a noticeable impact on consumer purchasing and consumption of affected goods, and the health impacts are likely to be minimal. The effects of increased ethanol production on air quality are uncertain. Although there is potential for ethanol production to decrease our reliance on fossil fuels in the future, thereby substantially reducing the emission of ground-level ozone-causing pollution, the current mechanisms for production and distribution of ethanol are not sustainable or energy efficient. Currently, growing corn for ethanol production actually requires about 70% more energy than it yields. Further, ethanol must be transported by truck, rail, or barge as it cannot travel through petroleum pipelines. This transport will result in greater total emissions. Research and new technologies may reduce these inefficiencies in the future.

Products Produced

Policy Brief: 

Background Reports


Brian Cole, DrPH

UCLA, Box 651772, Rm 61-253 CHS
Los Angeles

(310) 206-4253