I have written a column for the alternative agriculture journal ACRES,USA since 1998 and this is the last one.
Dr. Weil... suggested that the diabetes epidemic among young people that is upon us now, largely the result of the preponderance of high-fructose corn sweeteners in foods and beverages, will in time evolve into an epidemic of early-onset coronary heart disease for people in their thirties. This circumstance is nothing short of institutionally legitimized suicide. We are paying now to protect and promote unhealthful crops and foods and we will pay much more dearly in the future for the health care required to mitigate the suffering being self inflicted with each swallow.
Michael Pollan, the author of the enviro must-read best seller Ominvore’s Dilemma and Dr. Andrew Weil, food and nutrition sage and author, have been actively campaigning this season for a complete overhaul of the federal farm bill. Every five years the USDA and congress create a legislative blueprint for public policy on many aspects of agriculture. If you want to affect the outcome, act soon; the House of Representatives will debate the measure towards the end of July.
Many other perhaps lesser known and more lightly taken critics of government food and farming policy than Weil and Pollan have been speaking out, however what marks the Weil-Pollan movement is the heat with which these normally staid fellows have been attacking our long-standing policies at the United States Department of Agriculture. Since both of them have been guests on the Oprah Winfrey show, the peerless cultural litmus-test, the message they deliver can resonate louder because Weil and Pollan have star-power name-recognition.
A crowd of us went south to San Diego to hear Pollan and Weil at a national nutrition conference hosted by the University of Arizona Program in Integrative Medicine. There were few farmers, and probably few sundry consumer types there, but there were hundreds of doctors, hospital administrators, professional nutritionists and medical school people in attendance.
The message, a simple one readers of ACRES will recognize, is that bad agricultural policy is equivalent to a bad public health policy. We are growing food and harvesting disease. It can not be said any clearer. Dr. Weil implored the notable attendees to criticize that policy openly and especially to congress in order to transform the way we have designed our public policy with regard to agriculture.
According to Weil and Pollan, one way to alter our perception of the paradox is to think of the legislation not as a farm bill but as a food bill. In so doing, more people would get wise to the fact that the food the government publicly promotes, and pays for with our money, are merely surplus calories we need not consume. It also is food for livestock which ends up being a direct subsidy to the meat processor/marketing industry. And both bad meat and sugar are the end products which only benefit the few biotech and chemical corporations which control what is produced on millions of acres of US farmland each year. The rest of us are buying a job. Beyond our borders, the dominance of the corn/soybean/livestock hegemony in the US eventually commands farm policy and nutrition possibilities in the larger foreign producer-nations that are equally as friendly to the bad product that Monsanto, Pioneer, et. al, have brought to our communal table. It’s a global crises in health and in farming. US policy is global policy.
It was a foregone conclusion that the money pipeline these farm bills authorize, from the US Treasury to the agricultural community, would be gamed ultimately so that monopolies like Monsanto are the biggest beneficiary. They are so good at it, they expect us to kick around poor people getting food stamps instead of pay attention to their institutional corporate larceny. Cover Iowa with Roundup, we don’t care. The bottomline benefit to Monsanto, et al, is at least 10 and probably more like 20 billion. They have nearly done away with the competition, just as have Cargill and Archer-Daniels-Midland, linking seeds to the chemicals they make, linking intentional overproduction to artificial price levels that assure continued use of the chemicals, continued purchase of the seed, and continuance of the dire food system.
This is why Monsanto’s people frequently are appointed to oversee the USDA, FDA and the EPA. The notion that this decades long relationship is a conflict of interest presupposes that there was some other intent. Take care to stow such trivialities, because collusion and secular sins like conflict of interest no longer interest arbiters of law nor lovers of ethics.
We will take this opportunity to reiterate that public monies supporting private production are inadmissible practices according to the international trade treaties mandated by the same people now preparing to extend the humiliating paradox another five years.
Dr. Weil described a health care system increasingly burdened by avoidable epidemics of our own making. And he deplored the nutritional quality of most hospital food, calling it a “professional disgrace”, to find hospitals outsourcing factory food even fast food style meals for patients and encountering junk-food dispensers there. He called on health professionals to pledge to change the dietary regime in their hospitals and clinics. He called on the public to demand better patient care, because only the best food is medicine.
Dr. Weil noted that it has been strongly established that a “ plant based diet is a superior alternative” to a diet based on processed foods and industrial meat production. He suggested that the diabetes epidemic among young people that is upon us now, largely the result of the preponderance of high-fructose corn sweeteners in foods and beverages, will in time evolve into an epidemic of early-onset coronary heart disease for people in their thirties. This circumstance is nothing short of institutionally legitimized suicide. We are paying now to protect and promote unhealthful crops and foods and we will pay much more dearly in the future for the health care required to mitigate the suffering being self inflicted with each swallow. The situation is about as bad as our continued tolerance of the tobacco industry. Perhaps its worse. They will never put dire health warnings on a can of Coke that says: Consumption of this product may cause diabetes, obesity, dental caries, heart disease and premature death.
The coming crises, like the present one, will affect middle and lower class wage-earners, those who are uninsured and are least prepared to pay for the kind of care needed. So our hospitals face another challenge that could be avoided with more thoughtful, even courageous policy.
Changing the name of the farm bill is only one way of helping people see that farm policy becomes food policy. Making clear the correlation between farming, food and health is another.
Public policy in agriculture regarding farm subsidies has been re-shaped for the past eighty years so that what was once a safety net for impoverished farmers has become a slush fund for the agricultural industry. There is nothing “ free-market”, “democratic” or “independent” about it, but its still draped with red, white and blue. Longstanding criticism of farm subsidies has exposed rich corporate recipients as undeserving, but this apparent scandal seems to leave us unmoved, decade after decade. We also are well versed in the relationship between subsidy recipients and members of congress who get some of the money kicked back in the form of campaign contributions. We seem to be inured to such behavior.
I have omitted criticism of biofuels, the new bonanza for Agribiz, only because of space limitations. But it’s the stupidest boondoggle since nuclear power-not that it surpasses it. Every day the sun bestows a kazillion killowats upon the earth, but, farm subsidies to the contrary, we seem to not appreciate gifts.
In June, the USDA’s National Organic Program seemed willing to abide by public pressure and not, for the moment, allow a number of conventional ingredients to be used in manufacturing certified organic products. A few food colorings and processing aids, the use of conventional intestines in organic sausage, and the use of conventional hops in making organic beer were all proposed and then quietly tabled. Another round of unnecessarily wasted energy and time was miraculously averted. Thank you to those who made this so. We have suggested in the past that the National Organic Standards Board and the staff at USDA merely elect to not deliberate such petitions when they arise. This is why they have been selected to make decisions. The criteria for allowances/exemptions are very clear in the law and have not been altered in the rules. If I petitioned for the use of plutonium as a disinfectant in my greenhouse, would any energy be consumed in deliberating such idiocy? If Budweiser can’t find enough organic hops, let them make less organic beer until the hops are available. If a scarcity of intestines exists, merely stamp out the sausage into patties. The hamburger is already sold in that form.
Elsewhere, we have identified a few organic farming practices that seem to be of some service. The little birds abide well in the term broccoli set side by side the newer seeded beds of beans and the transplanted tomatoes. The acrobats speed in and out of the blue broccoli, chasing down their prey and yet close by their shady refuge against an unforeseen strike from above or below. Hedge farming provides beneficial habitat for all nature, with an abundance of diversity assuring a homeostatic ecosphere en micro. Everybody truly gets theirs, nobody gets too much, and the blue bird, of the darkest sky blue sky, skims in out of the golden sun beguiled by a delicious grasshopper
This will be my last column. Its been ten years, which is a good run. I am parking it because I know there is much more going on in the realm of politics, organic regulation and in certification than I am able to study. You deserve someone who can tell you a month in advance what is important and not merely report a month too late on what transpired already. Out here on the edge I am not conscious of national and international concerns as I once was. I still regret any insults due to omission, lack of fact or zeal. I have enjoyed the relationship with my editors, especially with the enduringly patient Sam Bruce, who makes me sound an awful lot smarter than I really am, and with the members of the organic community I have met through my association with ACRES. I can not thank Fred Walters, which would be insufficient praise, because what he and his family print here is the most courageous journalism. I love you Charles. Thank you for the inspiration and for the loan of your indignation. I doubled my acreage and the horsepower in my tractor, so I better go pay for them now. Later.
Posted by Steve Sprinkel on June 23, 2007 06:52 AMPermalink author bio