We Can Make a Difference in Food Policy

I have in front of me a clear and concise policy brief from the Union of Concerned Scientists titled “Toward Healthy Food and Farms.” It addresses the question of “how science-based policies can transform agriculture.” It contains straightforward analysis and specific recommendations for policies that could eventually shift our federal government’s support for “the wrong foods” through billions of dollars of subsidies each year to greater support for “healthy food and farming practices.” And it makes clear that healthy farming practices produce healthy food.

You may read the same piece and come away agreeing with the recommendations. But we all know that in this climate, science and logic will not win the argument or change the laws. On the other hand, we have also seen firsthand just this week that we the people still have a voice and can still make things happen. And having science on our side can only help.

In last week’s newsletter, I wrote about the ABC news story about “pink slime.” This food additive had previously received attention from the media, but not from a national news source such as ABC. ABC News did not let go of this story and continued to report almost daily about the reactions and responses to their original story. The petition they linked to on their own website garnered over 200,000 signatures in a few days. This attention eventually prompted the U.S. Department of Agriculture to decide not to automatically provide the product to schools across the country. From now on, individual states or school system must request the cheaper additive if in their wisdom they decide their kids should be eating this stuff.

I certainly hope that the outrage will filter down rather than dissipate and that the protests will focus on school systems around the country. The USDA has made a public-relations decision to diffuse the issue and reduce its national profile. In doing so, it has hopefully made it easer for us to rally, speak, act out and rid school lunches of this stuff.

I was particularly outraged by the spokeswoman for the American Meat Institute, who kept reminding us that this stuff is “beef.” She said this over and over. Of course it is beef; it comes from the cow. But the argument is not whether it is beef, it is whether it is food and worthy of being served to our children as an additive to regular, unadulterated ground beef. If we need leadership on this, note that Whole Foods does not permit its use, and McDonald’s has recently decided to remove it from its products. Talk about strange bedfellows. We will be sure to notify you if and when a petition is made available for the Northern Virginia school systems.

Which brings me back to my point — even when the science is unassailable, it takes the passionate voice of the public that reverberates these days through the Internet to take that science and and bring it to bear on the discussion. Don’t count on the politicians doing it. It still helps to be informed, to act from fact rather than passion alone, and to be a true believer in logic. I am happy to see that it still works.

We provided earlier guidance on how to sign on to some of the reforms in the Farm Bill that will help support local agriculture. Feel free to use those same contacts to speak out again about the other suggestions in the Union of Concerned Scientists’ policy brief. Somebody out there may be listening — or at least recording our input.

See you at the market!