The American food system is broken. Chronic diet-related diseases cost US$500 billion annually, and agriculture is the main source of water pollution in America. The Food and Drug Administration reports that 80 percent of all antibiotics are fed to animals who aren’t sick, while excess healthcare costs in the U.S. from antibiotic resistance are estimated at US$20 billion annually.
“Our food system isn’t only broken for eaters. It’s broken for farmers, and it’s broken for workers across the food chain. Exploitation is rampant among food workers, who hold five of the eight worst-paying jobs in the country,” writes food author Mark Bittman. “Our farmers aren’t encouraged to do much to help. Instead, our policies encourage them to grow unsustainable amounts of unhealthy crops, and to do so at the expense of the long-term health of their land.”But Americans are fed up—and want change. Across political parties, 75 percent of people favor incentives for sustainable farming practices, and 81 percent are concerned with food companies backing Congress members, according to new research by Lake Research Partners. More than 80 percent of voters are very or somewhat concerned that the government recommends a diet of 50 percent fruits and vegetables while less than 1 percent of farm subsidies go toward production of fruits and vegetables.
Yet food and agriculture has not been a substantial part of Presidential debates or candidate’s platforms, and the U.S. has never taken a comprehensive approach to national food policy.
It’s time for change. The Union of Concerned Scientists is calling for food and farming to take center stage throughout the Presidential campaign through a “Plate of the Union” initiative. And food leaders Mark Bittman, Michael Pollan, Ricardo Salvador, and Olivier De Schutter have outlined a detailed agenda for a sound National Food Policy that would create a more fair and sustainable American food system.
The agenda outlines specific, feasible policy objectives that address both production and consumption, including:
• Enforce worker safety rules throughout the food system
• Prioritize regional producers through federal procurement programs
• Direct research and extension programs of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to focus on diversified farming systems
• Eliminate the routine use of non-medicinal antibiotics in livestock production
These objectives will contribute to a comprehensive and systemic approach to science-based food policy. “Previous administrations have failed to appreciate the linkages between farming, diet, public health, and the environment, with the result that the food system has never been effectively overseen, administered, or regulated,” writes Pollan.
Every American should have access to healthy and affordable food, and every farmer should be able to protect the environment while providing economic security for their families. The majority of voters are concerned with food affordability in their communities, and 14 percent of Americans were food insecure in 2014. To ensure that no child goes to bed hungry, and that every American has access to and can afford safe, healthy, and culturally appropriate food, the nation needs a comprehensive approach to food systems.
Many other organizations are taking a stand for food and farm policy at the national level. Food Policy Action is an organization that holds legislators accountable for votes on food and farming issues. “The truth is, our current food system is out of balance. It prioritizes corporate profits at the expense of our health, the environment and working families,” says Tom Colicchio, Food Policy Action co-founder and board member. “The next President needs to take bold steps to reform our food system to ensure all Americans have equal access to healthy, affordable food.”
Environmental Working Group is calling attention to pesticide residues on produce, and working to tracking farm subsidies to improve transparency. The Center for Food Safety is working to protect pollinators from pesticides and consumers from adulterants and microbial contamination in common foods. Oxfam America is calling attention to social and health externalities in the food system, such as for workers in poultry production. And Food and Water Watch is working to prevent agricultural pollution of drinking water and corporate consolidation in the food system.
Stand up for eaters and farmers across the nation by demanding a National Food Policy that will protect the environment, improve public health, and reduce inequality in the food system. Demand bold action by the next President by signing the petition HERE.
(Danielle Nierenberg is President, Food Tank, foodtank.com)