We Reap What We Sow: Food and Politics and the 2012 Elections

John Verlinden
Photo: Eric Hess
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John Verlinden Photo by: Eric Hess

By: John Verlinden/TRT Cuisine Writer–

We still call it the “Farm Bill,” and politicians still want the photo op with a small farm family whenever they speak about it, but American agriculture policy is about big business. Agriculture policy may be the most critical issue of our times, yet most of us pay little attention to it.

While Hillary Clinton (Secretary of State), Tim Geithner (Treasury Secretary), Leon Panetta (Defense) and Eric Holder (Justice) are household names we hear about on a daily basis, few of us could say who the Secretary of Agriculture is. This must change, because our agriculture policy is fundamental — it’s our food supply. From food security (food stamps and school lunches) to food safety (inspections and certifications), food research (labeling and nutrition
education), international relations (who we trade with) and environmental concerns (e.g. seed, fertilizers, pesticides, animal growth hormones and antibiotics, etc.) to macro-economic matters (giant transfers of income from average Americans to the well-to-do), agriculture policy affects many aspects of our lives.

Consider the new farm bill passed by the Senate just last month. Like its predecessors, this bill attempts to correct abuses of the past – eliminating price supports and subsidies and targeting assistance to small farmers (under current law nearly 50 percent of this money goes to large commercial farms who don’t need it). It also eliminates direct payments for not planting a crop (much of this money goes to large landowners, not farmers). And it provides some new programs that could encourage more food and vegetable production and consumption. The new bill emphasizes crop insurance for crop failures due to weather and natural disasters and compensation for farmers who suffer modest losses on fields actually planted. At first blush, this appears to be a step in the right direction, but is it just more corporate welfare? Will the unintended beneficiaries of this farm bill be large insurance companies who’ll have their premiums paid by taxpayers, instead of the agribusiness giants who profited most under the last one?

Ask politicians who want your vote where they stand. And push your representatives to use tax dollars to promote policies you endorse and to support people and businesses you believe should benefit.

Next month, we’ll examine the promise of and concerns about genetically modified foods. Share your thoughts, ask a question or suggest a topic for a future article – contact me: john@muchogusto.com or visit www.muchogusto.com and join our food forum.

Until next time – ¡Mucho Gusto!, ¡Muchas Gracias! y ¡Buen Provecho!