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'Yes We Can' Create a Sane Food Policy in the US | CommonDreams.org

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    http://www.commondreams.org/view/2008/12/06-2 Published on Saturday, December 6, 2008 by CommonDreams.org Yes We Can Create a
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      Published on Saturday, December 6, 2008 by CommonDreams.org

      'Yes We Can' Create a Sane Food Policy in the US

      by Bruce Friedrich

      Two extensive reports released in April indicate that our current method
      of devising food policy is broken and that the current system is doing
      tremendous harm in many areas, including those that are of particular
      interest to President-elect Obama: human health, the environment, and
      global poverty.

      The first of these reports, "_Putting Meat on the Table: Industrial Farm
      Animal Production in America_ <http://www.ncifap.org/>," was produced by
      the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production, a major project
      of the Pew Foundation and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public
      Health. The Commission comprised 15 members, including ranchers and
      health-focused professors (e.g., Marion Nestle) as well as a former
      governor of Kansas (John Carlin), a former secretary of agriculture (Dan
      Glickman), a former assistant surgeon general/chief of staff to the
      surgeon general, and the president of the Western Montana Stockgrowers
      Association. After more than two years of research, which included heavy
      lobbying by the meat industries, the Commission released its report
      explicitly comparing the state of agriculture today to the "military
      industrial complex" feared by Dwight Eisenhower. Upon investigation, the
      Commission found what it calls an "agro-industrial complex—an alliance
      of agricultural commodity groups, scientists at academic institutions
      who are paid by the industry, and their friends on Capitol Hill."

      One of the truisms of Washington politics is that agribusiness won't
      allow a sane food policy in the U.S. This sad fact is just as true of
      Democratic as of Republican administrations, as _detailed by
      investigative journalist Eric Schlosser_
      <http://www.goveg.com/government_madcow.asp> and _the Center for Public
      Integrity_ <http://www.goveg.com/government.asp> (CPI). Both wrote their
      strongest exposés about the issue during the Clinton administration. And
      although I'm currently discussing the executive branch, the problem
      infects Congress as well-whether under Democratic or Republican control
      (as documented by the Pew Commission, Schlosser, and the CPI).

      The results of the farmed-animal industry's self-governance have been
      disastrous. As the Commission explains, "Our diminishing land capacity
      for producing food animals, combined with dwindling freshwater supplies,
      escalating energy costs, nutrient overloading of soil, and increased
      antibiotic resistance,* will result in a crisis unless new laws and
      regulations go into effect in a timely fashion. ... This process must
      begin immediately and be fully implemented within 10 years*" [*/emphasis
      added/*]. In its executive summary, the Commission writes,
      "Commissioners have determined that the negative effects of the [factory
      animal farming] system are too great and the scientific evidence is too
      strong to ignore. Significant changes must be implemented and must start

      A similar report ("_CAFOs Uncovered: The Untold Costs of Confined Animal
      Feeding Operations_
      by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) was also released in April,
      reaching similar conclusions and making similar recommendations.

      In addition to the other issues, the UCS report details the tens of
      billions of dollars the meat industry receives in taxpayer subsidies
      every year. Remarkably, factory farms are so economically inefficient
      that _factory farm representatives claim_
      the entire meat industry would cease to exist if forced to pay even a
      tiny fraction back in the form of meaningful clean-air legislation.

      Sadly, but not surprisingly, not one of either reports' recommendations
      was included in either the House or Senate versions of the Farm Bill—or
      even meaningfully discussed.

      In January—another Obama first—we will have a president who has shown a
      keen interest in the problem: The Obamas famously shop at Whole Foods
      and eat organic vegetables—so the president-elect has his personal house
      in order. Impressively, he also understands and cares about the broader
      implications of our food policy.

      On August 1, at a forum in St. Petersburg, Florida, Obama discussed
      (_watch video_
      the fact that funneling grains through animals is inefficient, which is
      contributing to food shortages and even food riots in the developing
      world. At home, he pointed out that agribusiness subsidies are vastly
      inefficient, that they neglect the healthiest foods, and that American
      health would benefit from a change in diet. He declared that we need "to
      reexamine our overall food policy ...."

      The issue was still on his mind _when he spoke with Joe Klein_
      from/ Time/ magazine in October, when he brought up Michael Pollan's
      recent/ New York Times Magazine/ letter to the "farmer in chief." Obama
      discussed food policy like a pro, arguing that the U.S. needs—but
      doesn't have—a comprehensive policy approach. Obama explained that our
      lack of a sane and coherent food policy poses significant environmental,
      health, and national security problems.

      Of course, understanding the problem and fixing it are two very
      different things.

      First, Obama must pick a secretary of agriculture who does not have ties
      to agribusiness and who has not spent her or his career defending the
      status quo. Three names that are being discussed in the media—Charlie
      Stenholm, Colin Peterson, and John Salazar—would be horrible choices, as
      these men have supported the status quo consistently and would be very
      unlikely to support even the most modest of reforms. Even on
      noncontroversial animal welfare measures, they have gone against the
      will of the American people to support the worst policies
      imaginable—including horse slaughter and the sport-hunting of polar
      bears—even when the vast majority of Congress, including Sen. Obama,
      were going the other way.

      Second, PETA is recommending the creation of a National Food Policy
      Council (NFPC) to coordinate food policy, which is currently far too
      disparate to be efficient or wise. We have the National Economic
      Council, now run by Larry Summers, that looks at interagency economic
      policy, with a focus on efficiency and sound policy. And we expect that
      Obama will follow the advice of John Podesta, who recommends a
      cabinet-level "Department of International Development" in his superb
      book,/ The Power of Progress/. Similarly, we desperately need a
      food-policy council, which could include Rep. _Rosa DeLauro's proposal_
      for a food-safety agency but with a broader mission.

      One specific policy initiative that the new NFPC should address is the
      placement of the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) in the USDA. The
      current situation represents a conflict of interest that is harming the
      health of our nation's young people. Because the USDA exists to promote
      U.S. agriculture—not to improve human health—the NSLP has become a
      dumping ground for the meat and dairy industries at the expense of
      children's health.

      A similar issue exists regarding poverty alleviation. Currently, the
      Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program provides women with up to 28
      quarts of milk or 4 pounds of cheese per month, both of which are high
      in saturated fat and cholesterol. However, the program skimps on
      vegetables, allowing a monthly total of only 2 pounds of carrots (for
      breast-feeding women only) and 1 pound of beans—no other whole
      vegetables or fruits are allowed. The WIC program should be administered
      by the Department of Health and Human Services, not the USDA, for the
      same reasons that there should be a shift for the NSLP.

      The president-elect has committed to implementing sweeping changes that
      will improve the nation's health, protect the global environment, and
      address the problems of domestic and global poverty. He should start by
      appointing an independent-minded secretary of agriculture who shares his
      concern for our nation's youth, our national health, global development,
      the environment, and animals, and he should create a National Food
      Policy Council and appoint a food-policy "czar" to oversee and
      coordinate a comprehensive and forward-thinking policy.

      Bruce Friedrich is vice president of policy and government affairs for
      People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals <http://www.peta.org/>. He
      has been a progressive activist for more than 20 years.
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