A primary role of USDA is to promote U.S. agriculture. Another is to ensure food access for vulnerable Americans. On Monday, April 29, USDA took a step that will do both. The agency did this by expanding eligibility for USDA grants for equipment that makes it possible for farmers to accept SNAP EBT cards (policy brief). While it seems like a small thing, helping overcome this technological barrier will increase access to fresh and healthy produce for SNAP participants and improve farmers’ bottom lines. Read More >
If the farm bill could sing, that might be its riff, and our Senators its friends. In an uncharacteristic act of relative efficiency, the Senate debated 73 amendments and on Thursday, June 21, passed the bill in the span of three short days. And, believe it or not, the final bill is a little better for public health than it was three days ago. There’s still a long way to go, but for now there are a few things to sing about.
Wins for Public Health
These improvements did not float in lightly on the breeze. They were hard—and in some cases, narrowly—won. The closest call was an amendment (#2438), proposed by Senator Saxby Chambliss (R–GA), which requires farmers to undertake basic conservation measures in order to receive government help in paying for crop insurance. This is a commonsense social contract with significant implications for human health, as we have outlined here and here, and yet narrowly passed by a 5-vote margin (52/47). Read More >
The next two weeks are likely to see some decisive action on the Farm Bill. The Senate’s version of the bill could reach the Senate floor for a vote by the second week of June. (The House Ag Committee still has to hash out their version, and intends to have it written by the end of June.) So, you may be asking, What are the differences between the current (2008) Farm Bill and the one that may be coming down the pike?
Obtaining concrete information about the Senate’s version has been challenging, as the bill was not officially filed until last Thursday, May 24. We culled all the data we could from the versions of the bill available, and updated the Farm Bill Budget Visualizer with a feature that makes it easy to compare the Senate version of the 2012 bill to the previous version. Read More >
Believe it or not, just because I work for an academic institution does not mean that I relish reading academic reports. Usually, the monotonous, highly annotated text tends to make the eyelids of even the nerdiest of nerds (aka yours truly) grow heavy. And, yet, every once in a while, a bit of magic pops off the page, and with it the eyelids fly open. Such was the case when I read the Institute of Medicine’s report, Accelerating Progress in Obesity Prevention: Solving the Weight of the Nation.
Okay, okay. I have not read all 462 pages of the report, but what I did read was profound. Read More >
When to be grateful for an oligarchy—Or, why the Ag Committee chairs writing the Farm Bill now without a normal democratic process is likely better for public health
Rumor has it the next Farm Bill (minus a few titles) will be completed by the Ag Committee Chairs and handed to the “Super Committee” as early as today. The blogosphere has been atwitter with concern over this undemocratic process and there is a bipartisan effort in Congress to demand the Farm Bill be written through the more usual process—i.e. hearings on Capitol Hill and in the field, numerous briefings by interests groups, many meetings with advocates and Hill staff, etc., all taking place over months and months with the resulting bill being a true representation of the full populace’s input. Read More >
Recently, my boyfriend offered to give me a dollar for every blog I started with, “Stop what you’re doing, ’cause I’m about to ruin the image and the style that you’re used to.” I responded to his idea with a barrage of reasons why it was ridiculous and certainly not appropriate in my line of work to write blogs citing The Digital Underground’s “The Humpty Dance.” On second thought, however, those 18 words are an oddly apropos summary of the overarching goals of the Healthy Farms, Healthy People (HFHP) Summit, recently held in Arlington, VA, funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and hosted by Public Health Institute. The Center for a Livable Future was a co-organizer of the Summit-along with American Farmland Trust, California Food and Justice Coalition, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, and Public Health Law and Policy-which brought together interests from conventional and sustainable agriculture with public health professionals, physicians and health insurers to discuss potential shared issue-areas in food and agriculture policy. The goals of the Summit were to: Read More >
The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Capitol Hill briefing, yesterday, on Industrial Animal Farms and Worker Health and Safety was informative and compelling. It was also contentious. While Dr. Steven Wing, University of North Carolina epidemiologist and environmental justice expert, discussed the transformation of agricultural practices over the last few decades he was interrupted by a Congressional staffer who took issue with Wing’s statement that many of the family farms are disappearing and being replaced by industrial food animal operations. The interruption was brief, but the issue of “family farms” was raised again during the question and answer session.
Several briefing attendees claimed that their families had owned farming operations for generations, some of whom now run confinement livestock operations, also known as industrial food animal production (IFAP) facilities. Tensions grew when two attendees boisterously expressed their beliefs that even though many family farmers have shifted their farming practices to industrial models that they are still technically running family farms.
If you are not yet passionate about food safety, it’s time to get your gusto going. If you need a little push, I suggest watching Food, Inc. (discussed in detail by my colleague Ralph Loglisci on this blog). Part of the film features the tragic death from tainted meat of two-and-a-half-year-old Kevin Kowalcyk and the seemingly Sisyphusan efforts by his mother to get Congress to create better food safety laws. Her hard work, and that of many other advocates, is finally paying off. Consumers (read: constituents) are increasingly concerned with the issue and Congress is listening. Numerous bills have been discussed in the past few months, and now it seems one piece of legislation is taking hold: the Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009. Word on the street is it’s due for mark-up as early as today.
While I normally bemoan the slow moving ship that is our democracy, the rapidity with which this legislation is moving forward raises some concerns. Mostly because the kind of legislation we need to protect and promote a sustainable, healthy food system should be nuanced. And nuance takes time. Read More >
A great article in this morning’s Washington Post profiles Dave Murphy, the founder of Food Democracy Now, and emphasizes the need for strong advocates of food system reform who are from the Midwest. The importance of having advocates who aren’t coastal and who have worked the land (or are related to those who have) echoes Jill Richardson’s recent comments about the media ignoring the food justice side of the sustainable food movement and painting “a picture of the Organic Elite – Alice Waters, Michael Pollan, and big wigs at Stonyfield and Whole Foods – but mak[ing] them seem as though they’ve got their heads in the clouds as they call for tripling what we pay for kids’ school lunches or changing our policy to create decentralized, regional food networks.” As Natasha Chart points out the media can play an important, and often defining, role in establishing (or defeating) a movement, and too often the media just reinforce the status quo. For me, this is another example of the need for the sustainable food movement to come together and agree on some major talking points that encompass the entire movement (while still continuing to work for local and regional change). One voice could help ensure the full spectrum of issues are heard and reported on correctly.
Aaron French’s commentary yesterday on the Civil Eat’s blog raises this issue of how prepared the sustainable food movement is to take its seat at the table in Washington. An important question given the receptivity the current administration has shown of late. It seems some more organizing is necessary. Case-in-point: a statement from Obama, as quoted by Michael Pollan at the Georgia Organics conference (where I was on Saturday), in reference to taking action on sustainable food:
While Obama’s comments are encouraging, they point to the need for stronger organization within the movement. Read More >