Farm Bill, food regulation, food policy

Document Type



The Farm Bill (the Bill) is the principal driver of U.S. food law and policy. Its substance spans the food system including commodities, conservation, trade, nutrition, credit, rural development, forestry, and energy. These substantive titles command much scholarly analysis yet there is comparatively little review of the law-making process that yields the Bill. Given increased focus on Congress’s ability to use its legislative powers effectively, this essay questions whether the Bill’s traditional treatment as omnibus legislation leads to beneficial coherence or too much compromise in food system policy. Interestingly, disparate stakeholders prioritize maintaining the Bill as omnibus legislation. Some scholars suggest that the omnibus process unifies because it requires producers and rural interests to be understood by consumers and urban priorities. Others suggest that nutrition spending provides powerful incentives to maintain adequate supports for farmers. These theories suggest that lawmakers transcend their interests and consider the larger food system. Viewed in this light, the Bill’s omnibus status may be beneficial. However, it may also lead to compromises and concessions that stymy innovation and progress in the food system at a time when climate change and socio-economic disparities demand new approaches. The essay’s structure follows: first will be a general history of omnibus legislation including the Bill’s omnibus treatment; second, the benefits and burdens placed on the food system by the omnibus process will be explored; and finally, it will conclude with specific ideas about the merits of the Bill as omnibus legislation in 2018 and beyond.