December 23, 2008

Sustainable Agriculture Leaders Advise Transition Team

Center for a Livable Future

Center for a Livable Future

Today leaders in the sustainable agriculture community, organized by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, briefed members of the Obama transition team on priorities.  It was great to have the transition team’s ear, and to hear so many positive action ideas for the administration’s initial work.  CLF director, Dr. Bob Lawrence spoke of the epidemic of antibiotic resistance, and emphasized the need for the FDA to strengthen antibiotic licensing and permitting requirements in animal agriculture.  He also urged the USDA to take an in-depth look at the food safety impacts of antibiotic use in animal agriculture.  These recommendations and others are outlined in more detail as part of the Pew Commission report.

Most of the recommendations discussed did not address public health per se, although many had significant implications for public health.  We in the public health community are organizing to provide further input on issues relevant to the connections between food systems and public health.

Here are some other public health-related recommendations discussed during the call.

Patti Lovera of Food and Water Watch emphasized that as the Obama administration seeks to improve food safety policy, there has been little discussion of the fact that methods of food production matter for food safety.  She also encouraged the administration to examine the recent Bush administration policy changes such as those allowing CAFOs to avoid regulation for their emissions, and to assure that the policies that can promote sustainable agriculture are not used to subsidize CAFOs.

Mardi Mellon of the Union of Concerned Scientists urged recognition of the safety and economic issues in biotech crops, and in particular urged a ban on the use of genetically engineered food crops carrying pharmaceutical products.

Will Allen of Growing Power (and a recent Macarthur “genius” awardee) emphasized the importance of addressing food deserts, areas, often in low-income urban neighborhoods,  where there are few healthy foods available. 

Margaret Reeves of Pesticide Action Network spoke of the importance of recognizing the public health implications of pesticide use, particularly for farmworkers and community members.

Speakers also encouraged additional funds for programs supporting conservation, sustainable food production, distribution and access to sustainable and local foods, new farmers, ending discriminatory practices affecting minority farmers, improved competition in the agriculture sector, organics, price stabilization for agriculture, support for smaller farms, and agriculture-related greenhouse gas emissions.  All of these have public health implications.  There is an important role for us in the public health community to better articulate the connections.

It is exciting that this call happened, and that the Obama transition team representatives were receptive to ideas from the sustainable agriculture community.  They also emphasized that such communication would continue when the new administration takes office.  Onwards to January 20th.

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