An article by Nicholas Kristof today in the New York Times calls on president-elect Barack Obama to rename the Secretary of Agriculture cabinet position, suggesting the new title “Secretary of Food.”
The US Department of Agriculture was originally set up at a time when over one third of Americans were involved in farming. Now less than 2 percent of Americans are farmers. Kristof makes the case that the US needs to completely restructure the way government intervenes in food policy, reflecting the new issues that confront our nation.
Changing the title of Secretary of Agriculture to Secretary of Food (in essence, changing the name of the entire agency) would imply that government interest would be for consumers and food supply rather than for industrial agriculture.
Through government subsidies, health standards, farming practices and nutrition guidelines USDA policy has a tremendous impact on how Americans eat, in terms of both quality and quantity. This is particularly important because data on how America’s eating habits are affecting the health of our citizens and climate are staggering.
Currently, USDA policies are profoundly influenced by industrial agriculture lobbyists resulting in a collection of preposterous rules and regulations aimed to boost agriculture at the expense of, well, everything else.
One of my favorite examples of this is the USDA food pyramid. That milk represents nearly 25% of your recommended daily intake (of anything) is absolutely ridiculous and a perfect example of the strong influence of the dairy industry. From a nutrition science perspective, it is impossible to see how such recommendations are in the best interest of American eaters (aka you and me). The economy is important, but our health is equally if not more important.
Whether you agree with Kristof’s argument or not, it is good to be aware of what is at stake when you think about US agriculture and food policy.
On a related topic, Michael Pollan sat down with Bill Moyers recently to discuss his article “Farmer in Chief.” The interview is available for viewing on the PBS website.
Do you trust the current USDA to set food policy?