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Monday, July 23, 2007

The farm bill: Legislation to fatten us up

Posted By on Mon, Jul 23, 2007 at 9:16 PM

"Agricultural policy" does not have an exciting ring to it. Neither does "farm bill," which sounds doubly unappealing — politics and farming, two concepts many Americans find exceedingly boring.

Yet the 2007 farm bill, currently awaiting a vote in the House Agriculture Committee, decides what we grow, and through enormous subsidies, what will be cheaper — Coke or orange juice, potato chips or produce. Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma, writes about this and the other countless ways our country's food production is linked to things like obesity, global poverty, immigration, and the environment in his April 22 New York Times Magazine article "You Are What You Grow,"  (subscription only). It's a bill important to all Americans, and thus to the global community, and one which is in dire need of a revolution.

As Americans, the way we eat continues to wreak havoc on our national health. The surgeon general's declaration of an obesity epidemic brought it swiftly to national attention that we have a rather hefty problem with food.

What isn't so highly publicized is that while publicly battling obesity, our country pours money into the production of things like high-fructose corn syrup through huge subsidies given to farmers of the mass-produced commodity crops corn, soybeans, wheat, rice and cotton.

Thus, things are rigged so that the poorer you are, the more likely you are to be fat, since rationally, to eat on a budget means to eat crap. Over the past few decades, as American bellies loom larger and larger, the farm bill, which gets debated every five years in Congress, has laid out a national agricultural policy in direct conflict with national public health goals. Subsidies to commodity crops based on the amount farmers can grow encourage overproduction, flooding our food system with the products of corn and soy — mainly added sugars and fats. Practically no support has been given to farmers growing fresh produce.

The current policy is not just making us fat, it's making tubbies out of our kids. The farm bill designates surplus agricultural commodities that result from the encouraged overproduction to school lunch programs, making children the rotund receptacles for all our extra unhealthy calories. Not to mention the damage this type of commodity crop farming does to the environment. The farm bill has a larger impact on our land than almost any legislation.

This year, rumors of change are swirling around the farm bill. The often ignored, archaic bill is finally getting attention from people increasingly aware of its importance. The public health community recognizes the high cost our food system is having on our nation's health, and a growing social movement of citizens surrounding food issues has an increasingly loud voice. Many people are choosing to reclaim consciousness about what they eat and where it comes from.

The farm bill needs to be changed, with the interests of the quality of our food and our land in mind. These are issues people are starting to care about more and more ... the problem is transferring that concern to the dull, jargon-filled world of agricultural ... yawn ... policy.

To learn more about the workings of the farm bill, and agricultural issues, check out these resources: www.farmpolicy.org, www.publichealthaction.org, www.sustainableagriculture.net, www.agobservatory.org/issue

_farmbill2007.cfm, www.nffc.net.

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