Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Evolving Food Policy

Grand Grocery Co. - Lincoln, Nebraska - 1942

This month's newsletter from "A Call to Farms" contained the following synopsis of corporate ag vs. the little farmer which I thought was worth sharing. This newsletter author shares the view I do, that we need to work cooperatively within the system that we have. There is an appropriate role for both the large corporate farm and the very small organic farmer as well as those in between and finding a sensible balance with right policy is the goal in everyone's best interest. Government policies and laws need to uphold the opportunities for each, not showing preferential treatment for one over the other. Even more importantly, they need to uphold the safety of food production standards first, whether it be pesticide exposure, use and licensing of GMO's, or weaseling unhealthy food byproducts into every item that we eat. Because, "we are what we eat".

Currently, the production priorities dictated by our ag policy are more than a little off-balance.

The letter begins...

A continual theme in these newsletters has been the tension between large corporations and those who advocate sustainable, bio, local, and traditional food and agriculture. The dialogue is often intense and prone more to sloganeering than facts or reasoned analysis.

...Of the oft cited statistics of concern in this review are the fact that Monsanto controls the genetics of over 90% of the soybeans and 80% of the corn grown in the US; just four companies (Tyson, Cargill, Swift, and National Beef Packing Co) control over 80% of the beef packing industry and over 60% of pork (Smithfield, Tyons, Swift, and Cargill); and only 7% of food spending goes to farmers while over 70% goes to distributors. Farmers are less than 1% of the population due to concentration in farm size and are rapidly aging with an average age of 57 in the US and other developed countries not much different.

Of course on the other side companies such as Monsanto will argue that they have increased yields, reduced prices, and are reaping the rewards of their investments (in the case of Monsanto over 1.5 billion in R&D for GM Roundup Ready soy and corn seeds) which are to the overall benefit of the economy....

...I see the need for value choices. We need to decide what kind of society we want to live in first. It is also something that requires extensive debate among government, civil society, and industry. As painful as the health care debate has been in the US and the climate change debate internationally, the topics of food and agriculture deserve such a discussion too. The sands are shifting and we need to recognize that. But we also need enough certainty so that the foundations of what we have will hold steady and we can rebuild on them where needed. Revolution is romantic but guided evolution is more realistic. This was debated in an Economist forum on the usefulness of GDP as a value economic (measure). [source]


The availability and price of petroleum products, water, and macro economic conditions (should they deteriorate) will likely accelerate the rate of change in this critically important area of food policy in the not so distant future. Let's hope the policy makers will be right for the job.