Navigating legislation (after the fact, of course)

In May, the Congress passed the 2008 Farm Bill, which regulates various food, nutrition, and apparently biofuel issues. Tufts food policy professor Parke Wilde writes on his blog today:

The 629-page text (.pdf) of the 2008 Farm Bill is so complex and unreadable that the U.S. food policy community has been on the edge of our seats waiting for the USDA/ERS side-by-side comparison unveiled today.

The ERS side-by-side tool compares the new Farm Bill with current law, title by title, so we can finally begin to understand what the law really means.

ERS is the USDA’s Economic Research Service. Their side-by-side webpage, which I think was just published this week, shows the provisions of the previous and the current bill side-by-side. (It’s not a comparison of the bill text, but of summaries of the provisions.)

This is interesting on a number of accounts. First, the fact that it is the USDA making this comparison suggests that everyone agrees that the bill itself is effectively incomprehensible even to professionals and scholars on account of its size and summarizing it is costly enough that only the government would do it, taking three months to prepare.

Second, if this is what was needed to understand the Farm Bill, was it passed without anyone understanding it?

Third- This comparison was made by and for professionals and scholars, not by tech geeks. Why aren’t we talking to them?

The ERS tool comes complete with a seemingly unintentionally hilarious intro video — overly dramatic with background music fit for the Miss Universe competition. (Wilde likened it to “a documentary by Kenneth Burns or an account of a manned mission to the moon”.)

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