Today’s New York Times has a nifty op-ed from Michael Pollan on the Farm (Food!) Bill. The Bill might be voted on this week. I suppose there is still time to scream and shout about how it needs to be brought in line with health considerations, although it’s hard to retain much optimism at this point. The Farm Bill is a terrific illustration of the ways in which agriculture is linked to food, nutrition, and health, but it also is a terrific example of why our corrupt electoral system needs fixing. If we want our representatives to put public health above corporate health, we need to find a much better way to fund election campaigns. Let’s start working on all of this right now!
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The Senate Agricultural Committee voted to continue $288 billion in farm subsidies, as well it might. Its members must have lots of friends among the top 1% of subsidy beneficiaries, those who (according to the Chicago Tribune) collectively get 17% of the cash–an average of $377,484 each. At this point, nobody expects much good to come out of the farm bill, due to be voted on next week. Reformers say they just don’t have the votes. I guess we’ll just have to start organizing now for the next round.
I’m confused about what’s happening at the Wall Street Journal these days. It has always had a deep political divide between the editorial and news pages. Is it possible that news is taking the lead? The October 15 opinion page has an unsigned editorial on the harm farm subsidies do third world farmers and U.S. credibility. It says, “…the case for reducing subsidies has never been stronger. Much of this mess was the work of Republicans five years ago. With the Senate getting ready to debate its farm bill, Democrats have a chance to do so something for the world’s poor and America’s taxpayers. If they don’t, it will be because they don’t want to.” This from the Wall Street Journal? Maybe the time has come?
According to industry sources, the produce industry is thrilled with the version of the farm bill just passed by the House. Well, it does contain some support funds for fruit and vegetable growers, calls for country-of-origin labeling, and has some other useful provisions. But subsidies for corn, soybeans, and other agribusiness commodities? No way.
A reader just posted an interesting comment about marketing foods to children in school, but also has this to say about the farm bill: “…I’m concerned with the vast amount of money that is spent on promotion of corn and obesity with the corn subsidies in the Farm Bill…Dr. Nestle, what do you think can be done so that America has a Farm Bill more appropriate for public health before the current one is reissued for 2008-2012?
My response: Well, something certainly needs to be done about the Farm Bill, especially this year when it’s up for renewal. The Farm Bill (food bill, really) has everything to do with our food and agriculture system, good and bad. But the issues it concerns are mind-numbingly complex. Dan Imhoff’s book, Food Fight, is a good place to start figuring out what they mean, and he has a terrific short summary of his book at the Center for Ecoliteracy. The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy in Minneapolis is another great source of information–check out their reports, particularly the one called Food Without Thought about how current farm policies promote obesity. Now is the time to let congressional representatives know how you think about the issues. It could not be easier to find and contact them. Maybe they will listen if enough people let them know that farm policies should promote health–for people and the environment. Don’t you think it’s worth a try?