Thursday, June 14, 2012

It's About Time For A Food Fight

...the farm bill is a vast collection of specific programs aimed at specific constituencies, each with its own lobbyists and congressional supporters. It is so big and covers so many issues that nobody in Congress can possibly be expected to understand more than a tiny fraction of what is involved. Hence: lobbyists.
Marion Nestle

The Environmental Working Group sent an open letter to every member of Congress urging each and every single one of them to cast their votes on the side of a more just national food system. The Farm Bill comes up for renewal every 5 years and this one, as usual, is filled with billions of dollars subsidizing corporate farms that specialize in 5 commodities: corn, soy, cotton, rice and wheat. These subsidies incentivize the production of these commodities for a reason: their availability, of course, is vital for our national health.

The problem is that, much like the federal government's bailout of the financial industry in '08, these subsidies largely come with no strings attached for too-big-to-fail industrial farms. The federal government is actually in a wonderful position to incentivize much better outcomes in regards to pollution and processed foods. The failure of our government's ability to do precisely this has everything to do with the flood of campaign contributions and lobbyists to Washington DC. Local and organic farms do not have this kind of power. So we all suffer.

Currently, only 5% of the American population meet the daily USDA recommendations. We have skyrocketing rates diabetes, cancer, coronary heart disease and stroke. The annual health care costs associated with these are estimated at $70 billion. As much as we Americans love to trumpet individual responsibility, we are all in this together. The food system is actually a declaration of interdependence. All of our health care premiums will continue to increase as insurance companies dig deeper to cover an unhealthy nation. Bottom line, our collective dietary habits are unsustainable and this is not all about bad choices. Lower-income families do not have the cash to buy fresh-local-organic fruits and veggies from the Farmer's Market. Not only are these products are not subsidized, but also food stamps are being cut by $90 per household per month in the current food bill.

As much as none of us really appreciates the federal government telling us what to do, let alone eat, the government is the one institution that can really affect crop prices and ensure the health of our food. Through subsidies and regulation the federal government can make available fresh, organic produce for all Americans, including those who live in food deserts like South Los Angeles. Or political leaders can continue to take marching orders from the corporations who fund their campaigns. Let's hope and pray for a movement of citizens who study the voting habits of their representatives in Congress. As the open letter proclaims:

Come November, they will be giving their votes to members of Congress who supported a healthy food and farm bill that puts the interests of taxpayers, citizens and the vast majority of America’s farmers first and foremost.America’s farmers first and foremost.

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