Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Food, Fairness, and the 2007 "Farm" Bill

Writing in the New York Times magazine this past weekend, Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma, attempts to rebrand the 2007 Farm Bill as a food bill, linking health policy and agricultural policy. For decades, American waistlines have been expanding in tandem with bloated farm subsidies, and the worst effects are felt by poor people whose dollar goes farther when purchasing unhealthful, high-calorie, processed foods. Comparing the fate of carrots and Twinkies in our food economy, Pollan says:
Among other things, [the Farm Bill] determines which crops will be subsidized and which will not, and in the case of the carrot and the Twinkie, the farm bill as currently written offers a lot more support to the cake than to the root. Like most processed foods, the Twinkie is basically a clever arrangement of carbohydrates and fats teased out of corn, soybeans and wheat—three of the five commodity crops that the farm bill supports, to the tune of some $25 billion a year. (Rice and cotton are the others.) For the last several decades... U.S. agricultural policy has been designed in such a way as to promote the overproduction of these five commodities, especially corn and soy.

Agriculture also persists as the millstone around the neck of international trade negotiations, grinding the process to a halt. Promises have not been kept to end unfair practices that harm farmers in the developing world, such as the dumping of surplus goods. Environmental pressures are also bearing down on the situation. Policy Innovations recently covered the use of food crops to produce ethanol—the result is a complex economy of tariffs, Brazilian sugar, American corn, and rising tortilla prices in Mexico.

The Minnesota-based Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy has been covering all these topics at its AgObservatory site, with a special section dedicated to the Farm Bill.

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