Thursday, October 19, 2006

Mark says behind the bad spinach…is a bad farm policy

The first thing I do once I arrive to the Farm Aid office on Monday mornings is scan the papers for articles on food and farming that ran over the weekend. We try our best to stay up on all the issues and developments related to farming and use them to inform our work to strengthen family farm agriculture. And there it was…

Once again, Michael Pollan (author of Botany of Desire and The Omnivore’s Dilemma) hits the problem of our incredibly centralized food system on the head. In last Sunday’s New York Times Sunday Magazine, Pollan writes in an article titled, The Vegetable-Industrial Complex, that “the way we farm and the way we process our food, both of which have been industrialized and centralized over the last few decades, are endangering our health.

The immediate issue endangering our health that Pollan was referring to was the recent outbreak of E. coli in packaged spinach – an outbreak that sickened nearly 200 people and killed three. When one packaging plant processes 26 million servings of salad each week and distributes it nationally, it’s easy to see how disease can spread through our food system like wildfire.

Adding to the list of problems associated with how we grow and process our food is the threat of obesity. Less sensationalistic than an outbreak of E. coli perhaps, but much, more dangerous, obesity is a public health crisis of unfathomable dimensions and repercussions. The Center for Disease Control now estimates that between 30 and 40% of kids born today will develop diabetes, which is closely associated with rates of obesity. Think about that for a second...and then imagine our health care industry trying to cope with (and pay for) a third of the US population suffering the effects of diabetes.

In an essay titled “The (Agri) Cultural Causes of Obesity,” which is included in Farm Aid’s 20th Anniversary book Farm Aid: A Song for America, Pollan connects the problem of obesity to an agricultural policy that promotes and subsidizes the over production of cheap calories – mainly in the form of corn and soybeans. Cheap corn gets processed into high fructose corn syrup and cheap soybeans get processed into hydrogenated soybean oil, both of which in turn sweeten and fatten the ever-growing supply of processed food products.

At the core of the E. coli outbreaks, whether in spinach or ground beef, and the growing obesity epidemic is a failed farm policy. The recent farm bills, passed every five to seven years by Congress, have aided and abetted the corporate consolidation and control of our food system at the expense of family farmers, food safety, public health and the environment. Soon, Congress will once again debate the next farm bill. Already lining up outside the doors of our elected officials, the lobbyists of the giant food companies are polishing their sales pitches to win yet another farm bill for Big Food.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Can you imagine what a new farm bill could do to strengthen, rather than endanger, the public health if its goals promoted sustainable family farm agriculture and healthful food for all? Can you imagine a farm bill that valued decentralized and diversified food production, processing and distribution over a global food system controlled by a handful of multinational corporations?

We invite you to imagine with us a new farm and food agenda that serves our interests – family farmers, consumers, and local communities – and ensures food from family farms for all. We also invite you to pick up the phone and call your senator and representative in Washington to ask, “Isn’t it time we made a fair and just farm bill a national priority? Isn’t it time for a farm bill that actually helps keep family farmers on their land to grow the good food we all need? Isn’t it time we had a farm bill that valued economic fairness, people’s health and environmental stewardship over corporate greed?”

Let us know what you think, and what they say!

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