Monday, December 18, 2017

Food and Farm Bill of Rights Stereotypes Modern Ag and Family Farms

In a recent Forbes article related to food trends that will shape 2018 one trend that stood out to me was #9, Politics and Food:

"Among the most troubling political moves to food businesses has been the country's withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement…There are two important focused efforts that will impact our food world in 2018. The first is the San Francisco ordinance that requires retailers to report antibiotic use by meat and poultry suppliers…this ordinance could also expand across the country.The second is the Farm Bill that will set in place eating and farming policy for a five-year period."

This is interesting given the political polarization we have seen with food preferences and beliefs.  The article also references democratic representative Earl Blumenauer's "Fight for Food" and "Food and Farm Bill of Rights." 

For instance in discussing the farm bill his web site states:

“The current Farm Bill provides little help to most American farmers and ranchers. 94% of all Farm Bill subsidy payments go to a few large-scale corporate farms that produce corn, rice, wheat, soy, cotton, and peanuts. These payments do little to support local food systems and growers. The result is that, we are paying the wrong people to grow the wrong things in the wrong places.”

“It's time for a better Food and Farm Bill that provides more Americans with healthy, locally grown food; that promotes sustainable farming practices; that reduces our impact on the environment; and that builds an economy around local farmers--not massive, corporations.”

We've seen this distorted view of subsidy payments before (see Four Big Questions about Big Ag, Subsidies, and Food ) ...and it overlooks the fact that these products are subsidized because that is what we eat vs. the other way around. It is also interesting that this language calls out "growing the wrong thing in the wrong places" yet in other places seems to favor subsidizing local production which would be contrary to comparative advantage as well as less sustainable. There is a lot here that may be hard to take issue with, but careful reading seems to put America's family farmers on defense.

The 2nd amendment in the Food and Farm Bill of Rights states: "Americans have a right to local supplies of fresh, healthy food, not subsidized food that makes them sick...Instead, the Farm Bill supports industrial meat production and processed foods that pose problems for human health and the environment."

This is some combination of ignorance of agricultural policy and production, hyperbole, and condescension. The causal connection between subsidized food and making people sick is tenuous at best. (a good read related to this is Tamar Haspel's recent article "Junk food is cheap and healthful food is expensive, but don’t blame the farm bill.")

Further the 6th amendment states: "Americans have a right to a healthy natural environment, and to a farm policy that does not exacerbate climate change...Our food and farm policies should reduce the emission of greenhouse gases from animal production, tilling practices, and crop selection, while minimizing energy demands.”

OK I agree but what do they have in mind? We've already pointed out the potentially conflicting goals of supporting local food and sustainability. And it is a fact that the current subsidies they are so critical of (like crop insurance) are for crops that are nearly all genetically modified and associated with sustainable practices like crop rotation, reduced tillage, improved biodiversity, as well as reduced emissions. 

For the most part this is just a recycling of myths and stereotypes about modern agriculture to garner support from the usual critics. This campaign feeds these stereotypes and appears to provide them legitimacy that may eventually lead to policies that hurt family farmers as well as ultimately the environment and the future sustainability of agriculture.

See also:

 Sustainably Feeding the World: Organic Food and Vegetables vs Conventional Commodities.

Agricultural Intensification and the Environment

The Cult of Statistical bacon is not really as bad or worse than cigarettes!

Technical Efficiency, Yields, and Livestock Energy Conversion

What is the Most Effective Way to Mitigate Climate Change

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