July 11, 2012

Important letter to House Agriculture Committee

Center for a Livable Future

Center for a Livable Future

The House Agriculture Committee began marking up the farm bill this morning. As we’ve described in past posts, this bill has significant implications for public health. CLF sent the letter (below) to the House Agriculture Committee, emphasizing important changes needed in the bill in order to protect and promote health. Specific amendments that address some of these issues are being supported by the Community Food Security Coalition, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, and others. Please take a moment to get informed –  and take action!

Here’s the letter sent by Bob Lawrence to members of the House and their staff:

On May 8, 2012, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) released a report linking agriculture policies and obesity in the United States. We not only agree that such policies impact obesity, but also contribute to other public health concerns including cancer, asthma, antibiotic resistance, hypertension and other diet-related diseases. Thus the farm bill has a significant impact on public health.

We see great potential in U.S. agriculture policy to promote public health while ensuring thriving farm and rural economies. We applaud some provisions included in Chairman Lucas and Ranking Member Peterson’s mark of the bill, while also having major concerns regarding the proposed deep cut to SNAP. We encourage the House Agriculture Committee to pass a bi-partisan bill swiftly, while taking into account the following considerations.

 Provisions that support public health and should be maintained:

Authority for USDA to exempt farmers markets from being required to cover 100% of the costs for EBT equipment and implementation and pilot programs to test better ways to connect SNAP to direct-to-consumer outlets such as farmers markets, mobile vendors, and farm stands.  Such programs will benefit farmers and public health, as outlined here;

  • Community Food Projects Program helps communities build food self-reliance;
  • Expansion of the Farmers Market Promotion Program to the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion program with extended authority to fund food hubs, which will increase access to fruits and vegetables and connect farmers with more market opportunities (Overall a good program, but the cap for administrative costs is too low);
  • Farm to School demonstration project that would allow 5 states to opt-out of the existing fruit and vegetable purchases and source locally; and
  • Increased support for Specialty Crop Block Grant program that helps states increase demand for and consumption of fruits and vegetables

Changes needed to protect public health:

  • Decrease the cuts to SNAP. The magnitude of the cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program will have grave negative impacts on the health of America’s most vulnerable citizens;
  • Include a SNAP local fruit and vegetable incentive program. This would benefit both farmers and the health of vulnerable Americans. See here for more information on these vital links;
  • Increase funding for conservation programs. These are essential to protecting health, as outlined here;
  • Re-establish the connection between conservation compliance and crop insurance subsidies. All risk management tools for farmers should ensure the social contract with U.S. taxpayers to protect our nation’s national resources by tying conservation compliance to all safety net and risk management programs. The impact on health is significant, as shown here;
  • Include the Healthy Food Financing Initiative to increase access to healthy food for underserved communities;
  • Maintain the integrity of the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Snack Program by reinstating full funding for the program, and ensuring only fresh fruits and vegetables are eligible;
  • Ensure fairness and competition, by including a ban on meat packing companies’ ownership of livestock. The current market does not ensure fair competition for all meat producers. A lack of competition means many producers who use methods that protect America’s waterways, air quality and citizen’s health face a disadvantage due to the lack of fair competition; and
  • Support research, extension and education programs that strengthen local, regional, sustainable and organic agriculture, promote good nutrition, and ensure public development of seeds and breeds necessary for a diverse and healthy diet.

While we recognize the current fiscal challenges the nation faces, we believe a farm bill that prioritizes public health is crucial to ensuring the health of our nation, and we urge you to support these programs as you move forward with legislation to reauthorize the farm bill.

Thank you for your attention to the health-promoting and disease-preventing priorities for this critical public health legislation.

Sincerely yours,

Dr. Robert S. Lawrence, MD
The Center for a Livable Future Professor in Environmental Health Sciences and Professor, Departments of Environmental Health Sciences, Health Policy, and International Health
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
Director, The Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future

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