by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Food-policy

Nov 10 2020

What should Biden do about food policy?

I have a few suggestions.  Maybe you can think of others?

  • Appoint committed experts to head federal agencies dealing with food issues (especially USDA, FDA, FTC, EPA, CDC).
  • Rehire the experts who quit or were fired during the Trump administration.
  • Bring the Economic Research Service back to Washington DC.
  • Rescind the public charge and work rules that have led to SNAP de-enrollment; restore SNAP outreach.
  • Refocus agricultural supports on food for people (rather than feed for animals or fuel for cars).
  • Promote small- and mid-size agricultural production.
  • Provide incentives for agricultural production that conserves and regenerates natural resources.
  • Insist on fair pay for farm, packing house, restaurant, and grocery workers, and on safe working conditions.
  • Use every means possible to promote diets that reduce the risk of overweight and the diseases for which it increases risk.
  • Create a food agency to coordinate existing policies to develop a food system healthier for people and the planet.

Hey, I can dream.

Anything in this direction will be a big step forward.

Oct 21 2020

Food Policy Action releases 2020 Scorecard: Vote!

Food Policy Action started keeping score on congressional votes on food issues in 2013, but the last time I wrote about its scorecard was in 2017.2020

It has just published its 2020 interactive Scorecard, which you can use to check how your state’s legislators score on food issues.

As Food Policy Action puts it, the “scorecard underscores Senate’s failure to feed hungry, protect workers.”

Food Policy Action identifies six ways Trump has hurt eaters, food workers and farmers.

The purpose of the Scorecard is to hold legislators accountable.  Now is the time to do that.

Vote with your votes by November 3.

Oct 15 2020

Good news #4: Successes in reducing sugary drinks

Berkeley, California, ever at the cutting edge of public health nutrition policy, is banning junk food from checkout counters and aisles.

The new policy will require retailers larger than 2,500 square feet to stock healthy food at the register and in areas where customers wait in line, instead of items like chips, soda and candy. It forbids food items with 5 grams of added sugars and 200 milligrams of sodium, chewing gum and mints with added sugars, and beverages with added sugars or artificial sweeteners. In Berkeley, the policy will affect stores like Safeway, Monterey Market, Whole Foods and Berkeley Bowl.

As a result of efforts like these—public health campaigns, soda taxes, and other initiatives—heavy consumption of sugary drinks (more than 500 calories/day) is declining.

According to a recent study, the percentage of children who drink more than 500 calories worth of soft drinks a day declined from 11% to 3%  from 2003 to 2016, and the percentage of adult heavy consumers declined from 13% to 9%.

This trend is in the right direction.

Sep 4 2020

My editorial with Nick Freudenberg

The American Journal of Public Health has just published an editorial I did with Nick Freudenberg, who directs the Urban Food Policy Institute at the CUNY School of Public Health.

“A Call for a National Agenda for a Healthy, Equitable, and Sustainable Food System” [it’s open access and you can read it at that link]

Here’s the abstract:

In less than a month, US voters will choose their next president and Congress, creating the opportunity for food, farm, and social justice activists to shape a new federal food agenda. Whether Democrats sweep the election or Republicans retain the Senate or White House, the devastation wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic, the deepening economic crisis, and the continuing disruptions from climate change demand rethinking how federal food policies can contribute to improved human and planetary health. (Am J Public Health. Published online ahead of print August 27, 2020: e1–e3. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2020.305926)

Our goals:

  1. Reduce hunger and food insecurity
  2. Dismantle systemic racism in the food system
  3. Make healthy affordable food available to all Americans
  4. Reduce burden of diet-related diseases
  5. Support agricultural practices that reduce carbon emissions and other forms of pollution
  6. Protect food workers
  7. Promote food democracy
Aug 7 2020

Weekend reading: Transforming the US Food System

The Rockefeller Foundation has a new report out: Reset the Table: Meeting the Moment to Transform the U.S. Food System.

The report summarizes what Covid-19 has added to our dysfunctional food system.  It proposes three goals:

  • An integrated nutrition security system that treats access to healthy food as a right and embeds healthy food access as a core component of
    health and education
  • Reinvigorated regional systems as part of a better-balanced nationwide food chain that includes diverse, agile, and prosperous local and regional food chains alongside a robust national chain, designed to serve all communities from rural to urban.
  • Building more equitable prosperity throughout the supply chain.

It summarizes all this in one graphic.

The challenge, of course, is how.

Jul 8 2020

More about the ongoing saga of the food boxes

I’m still trying to figure out what’s happening with the USDA’s food box program.  Is it helping farmers?  Recipients?  It’s hard to get the big picture.

H. Clare Brown in The Counter writes that the Farmers to Families box program is failing to meet its targets.  It is “10 million boxes and 25 percent short of its forecasted delivery.”

Other aspects of the distributor selection process were even more perplexing. No distributors from Maine were selected, for instance. Some contractors failed to deliver their boxes directly to distribution points, forcing food banks to incur tens of thousands of dollars in last-mile delivery costs. And then there were questions about the cost of the food: Despite requests from lawmakers, the agency has not publicly released detailed information about the prices it has paid for the food boxes. Reporting from The Counter found that, in some cases, the agency was paying well above retail prices for gallons of milk distributed in the boxes….Advocates have argued that the food boxes…represent a regressive attempt to reinvent the wheel, forcing people to wait in long lines reminiscent of Depression-era food handouts, in full view of their neighbors and in potentially dangerous proximity to other people. It remains to be seen whether the food box program is more efficient for purchasing groceries than SNAP.

In the meantime readers have been sending me photos of what they are seeing.

RC Rybnikar sends this photo with the comment that the lettuce was iceberg, not romaine.

Andrew Coe, who wrote the op-ed I linked to last week, sent a photo of a New York City Board of Education food box that is part of the city’s free meals program.  

 

Well, the apples are fresh.

Larissa Zimberoff sent me a photo of pork patties distributed through a food bank in Marin County.  These do not appear to be part of the COVID-19 program.

Gayle Lautenschlager writes:

In a recent blog post regarding USDA food boxes you asked if there is a way to both more efficiently help people who need food while simultaneously helping farmers. The answer is yes and it is already being done in Washington state.

The program is called Farm to Food Bank. Harvest Against Hunger is the lead agency running this program as well as a sister program called King County Farmers Share.

The basic premise is that giving money directly to food banks allows them to wholesale purchase produce directly from local farmers. The result is that small local farmers are supported and food banks increase their distribution of culturally relevant and in demand produce. Often the local farmers will throw in extra produce or give a “non profit discount” which results in a below wholesale price per pound.

I am happy to know about such programs.

But my big question still remains: What is a sustainable way to address food insecurity in individuals and ensure a reasonable market that adequately compensates small- and medium-size farmers?

Can one policy do that?

Apr 24 2020

Weekend reading: Coronavirus effects on food systems

The International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems has produced a useful report, COVID-19 and the crisis in food systems: Symptoms, causes, and potential solutions

The lockdowns and disruptions triggered by COVID-19 have shown the fragility of people’s access to essential goods and services. In health systems and food systems, critical weaknesses, inequalities, and inequities have come to light. These systems, the public goods they deliver, and the people underpinning them, have been under-valued and under-protected. The systemic weaknesses exposed by the virus will be compounded by climate change in the years to come. In other words, COVID-19 is a wakeup call for food systems that must be heeded.

Covid-19 has three lessons for systems

  1.  Industrial agriculture is driving habitat loss and creating the conditions for viruses to emerge and spread.
  2. A range of disruptions are testing the resilience of food supply chains and revealing underlying vulnerabilities.
  3.  Hundreds of millions of people are living permanently on the cusp of hunger, malnutrition, and extreme poverty, and are therefore highly vulnerable to the effects of a global recession.

Its recommendations

  1. Take immediate action to protect the most vulnerable
  2. Build resilient agroecological food systems
  3. Rebalance economic power for the public good: a new pact between state and society
  4. Reform international food systems governance

Comment: This thoughtful, well documented report establishes a strong basis for action.  If only….

 

Jan 7 2020

Food politics issues for 2020: Science, Immigration, Taxes

Let’s start the new year with three articles in the New York Times about policies that might not seem to but do bear directly on food politics.

Science Under Attack: How Trump Is Sidelining Researchers and Their Work

 “The disregard for expertise in the federal government is worse than it’s ever been,” said Michael Gerrard, director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University, which has tracked more than 200 reports of Trump administration efforts to restrict or misuse science since 2017. “It’s pervasive.”

At the USDA,

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced in June he would relocate two key research agencies to Kansas City from Washington: The National Institute of Food and Agriculture, a scientific agency that funds university research on topics like how to breed cattle and corn that can better tolerate drought conditions, and the Economic Research Service, whose economists produce studies for policymakers on farming trends, trade and rural America.  Nearly 600 employees had less than four months to decide whether to uproot and move. Most couldn’t or wouldn’t, and two-thirds of those facing transfer left their jobs.

The reaction?  In August, Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, appeared to celebrate the departures.

“It’s nearly impossible to fire a federal worker,” he said in videotaped remarks at a Republican Party gala in South Carolina…”What a wonderful way to sort of streamline government and do what we haven’t been able to do for a long time.”

After ICE Raids, a Reckoning in Mississippi’s Chicken Country

The sweeping immigration raids on seven chicken plants in central Mississippi forced hundreds of Latino workers out and opened up jobs for African-Americans.  The article quotes one saying “it felt good to be earning $11.23 an hour, even if the new job entailed cutting off necks and pulling out guts on a seemingly endless conveyor of carcasses.”

How Big Companies Won New Tax Breaks From the Trump Administration

But big companies wanted more…The tax bills of many big companies have ended up even smaller than what was anticipated when the president signed the bill.

The article cites three beverage and food companies—Anheuser-Busch, Coca-Cola and Kraft Heinz—as among those participating in the lobbying blitz.

Such companies also deployed elaborate techniques that let the companies pay taxes at far less than the 35 percent corporate tax rate.”

Comment

Food politics is a full employment act.  We have plenty of work to do this year to create a healthier, more just, and more sustainable food system.