The Latest on the Farm Bill
Michael Pollan sent an email to his subscriber list with his take on the Farm Bill that was finally passed after much delay, debate, a veto, a Congressional override. The short take is the bill contains no major subsidy reform. Pollan’s words on the subject:
Here’s what I think happened. Critics of farm-policy-as usual– and I count myself among them– did a much better job of demonizing subsidies than they did proposing alternative forms of farm support that would have won over some percentage of the farmers now receiving subsidies. The whole discourse depicting subsidies as a form of welfare — payments to celebrities, rich people in cities, mega-farms etc– convinced many farmers that the ultimate goal of the farm bill’s critics was to abolish subsidies, rather than to develop a new set of incentives that would encourage farmers to grow real food and take good care of their land. Had the reformers crafted proposals that were easy to explain and attractive to even just a segment of commodity-crop farmers, we could have made much more progress. Instead, faced with what appeared like a threat to their livelihood, the old guard hunkered down and defended the status quo, refusing even to negotiate on the central issues. Better alternatives could have split this block, and it was our failing not to devise and promote them. What the Old Guard did instead of negotiating a new system of farm support was what it has always done: pick off the opposition, faction by faction, by offering money for pet programs. The history of the farm bill has long been about such trade offs: Urban legislators support subsidies in exchange for rural support for food stamps. That Grand Bargain has now been extended to supporters of organic agriculture, local food systems, school lunch advocates, etc. The reason that, in the end, most of the activist groups wound up urging Congress to override the veto is that, by the end, they all had been given something they liked in the bill. You could put it more baldly, and suggest they’d all been bought off– that the $300-plus billion bill represents the exact price of buying off all the critics of the farm bill, plus the cost of maintaining the status quo. But this is how the game is played, and the fact is, some good will come of these programs, modest as they are– they will sow seeds of change and legitimize alternative food chains, or so we can hope.
The challenge for the next farm bill is clear: it’s not enough to engage the public, important as that is; we also have to get much smarter about both policy and politics, and craft some attractive proposals that will divide the farm block as well as move us to a healthier and more sustainable food system– economically sustainable for farmers and farm workers and environmentally sustainable. This is the project for the next few years. We’ve got our work cut out for us.
Ethicurean posts an article that Michael Pollan references in the email, it has a good further analysis of the final legislation and what it means for us all. A good debate of pro and con can also be found over at Grist.
Food Recalls and Safety Issues
Tomatoes top the list in current recall notices. Here is a link to the recent CDC warning regarding a tomato-linked Salmonella outbreak. The outbreak involves 57 cases of people sickened primarily in Texas and New Mexico. Seventeen persons have been hospitalized after consuming raw tomatoes and becoming infected with the uncommon Salmonella serotype Saintpaul. An additional 30 reports of illness in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, and Utah are currently being investigated to determine whether they are also linked to tomatoes.
Meat alerts and recalls include 808 pounds of ground beef tainted with E. coli O157:H7, processed in Lexington, Nebraska and sold through Sherm’s Food-4-Less retail establishment in Medford, Oregon.
An “undetermined” amount of beef products were recalled on May 16, by JSM Meat Holdings Company, Inc., a Chicago, Ill.. The meat may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7. The meat was distributed to establishments for further processing in Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. With the involvement of several processing facilities in several states, this is going to be a tough recall to enforce. If you buy commercial beef at the grocery store, or eat out, be sure to follow some good safety tips.