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Farm Policy Fretting

February 24, 2009

Two points of view on the coming changes in Ag Policy, first commercial beef commentator Steve Cornett, and then his arch rival, well known food writer, Berkley professor Michael Pollan. Basically all their hand wringing stems from the fact that the ag/food sector has so much inherent federal meddling and unintended consequences. Too bad they can’t both agree in the right answer, less meddling, not just smarter meddling.


This is not a secretary who regards himself as a front man for agriculture, and he has told the press as much. He says he was an overweight as a kid and he things parents could use more government help in learning how to teach their children to be healthy eaters.
Just how much he has bought into the Pollan Premise—food is too cheap and too energy dependent—we won’t know until later. But I don’t ever remember, even during the Carter Administration, a secretary of agriculture putting consumerist groups so far up the list of People to Please. It will be an interesting four years, indeed.


There’s reason to be very concerned. He oversaw a tremendous expansion of feedlot agriculture and confinement hog production, ruining the Iowa countryside, ruining the lives of many farmers. He helped gut local control over the siting decisions. He has also been very friendly toward Monsanto and genetically modified products and was named governor of the year by bio, the big biotech trade organization. But people I respect say that he will listen to food activists and is interested in helping Iowa to feed itself. It’s a food desert, weirdly enough. All the raw material leaves the state and comes back in processed form. Putting the most positive spin I can on it: He’s no longer governor of Iowa, and I’m hoping that as a politician, when he senses where the wind is moving, he’ll move with it.

For many, many years the interests of farmers and eaters were the same thing. When the great public health problem was not enough calories for everybody, having policies that encouraged farmers to produce as much as possible made sense. Now our problem is different; it is the poor who suffer disproportionately from diet-related illnesses and chronic diseases. So merely giving them enough calories is not the answer. One of the more encouraging things that Vilsack said was that he was going to put nutrition at the center of his nutrition programs, which must have struck a lot of listeners as, “Well, duh,” but in fact nutrition has not been at the center; disposing of agricultural surplus has been. One thing to consider is getting these programs out of the Department of Agriculture. Eaters are the biggest interest group of all, and their interests are not being taken into account.


From → Food Policy

One Comment
  1. Matthew permalink

    No meddling is never going to happen (and I don’t think it should). Less meddling and smarter meddling are steps that can be taken.

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