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5 ways the government could improve our food system (and health)

As you probably know, the US is at a fiscal critical moment.  One of the major discussions in this year’s election debates is what programs should or should not be cut from the federal budget.  The Farm Bill costs the federal government about $300 billion dollars – 15% of which (aka $45 billion) is spent on agriculture subsidies. But it’s currently up for revision.

The House’s version (passed in July) is conservative and continues to reward commodity farmers (i.e. those growing corn, wheat, soy, cotton).  It also significantly cuts the food stamp budget.

The Senate’s more liberal plan makes modest cuts to the food stamp program, tightened income and ownership rules  (so the wealthiest farmers don’t receive unnecessary subsidies), and funds some programs that help local agriculture and small farmers.

The Senate has the right idea, but it doesn’t quite go far enough to make a difference.  The main issue at this point is the no-strings-attached crop insurance program that will dole out about $25 billion to farmers post-2012 drought season – and the major beneficiaries are wealthy, private companies.

What are we doing right?  Well, we’re starting to think about a more environmentally sound, sustainable system.  For one, the Senate is requiring that farmers agree to conservation guidelines.  Though these guidelines aren’t very strict, but a step in the right direction is still a step forward.

Here are a few other working ideas for spending billions instead of giving aid to farmers who don’t need it:

  1. Subsidize local farmers. Check out the Venezuelan efforts.
  2. Create a board.  In Rwanda’s Agricultural Board is responsible for finding ways to improve services to farmers.  It helps adapts policies and services that target farmers and consumers.  We should follow suit and figure out what will help farmers and consumers most.
  3. Protect vital food system workers.  Aka the bees.  There’s a class of pesticide banned in many European countries because it kills the bees.  No bees = no pollination = no food.
  4. Subsidize farmers that practice organic vegetable farming (which will lower the cost of said veggies).  India is already making waves with their novel program that provides a 75% subsidy to those who take up organic farming.  In addition to penalizing the bad, let’s incentivize the good!
  5. Start banning GM Crops!  I’m proud of US District Court Judge Jeffrey White, who ruled that the USDA did not properly review the ecological impacts of GM beets and banned them from Arizona and Oregon.  The cost of pesicide/insecticide damage, health risks, and agricultural run-off costs are too great not to do this.  However, California’s Prop 37, which proposed a mandatory labeling of GM foods was defeated, setting back GM labeling laws in the US.  In Europe, they’re already labeling GM foods, the origins of meat, and highlighting allergens.

Any or all of these ideas could improve our food system and our health.  Plus, most of these ideas cost a lot less than $45 billion.  What ideas do you have?

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