What does the federal Farm Bill have to do with a healthy diet? More than you'd think, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).
To get more fresh produce into our diets we need to reverse the policies that put up barriers — rather than provide incentives — for farmers to produce the fresh fruits and vegetables so urgently needed in the diets of most of us in the U.S.
With the Senate deep in Food & Farm Bill debates this week, the impact of our current policies on our economy, environment and health is on the table for discussion.
UCS makes the case that a shift to more responsible policies supporting "healthy-food farming" can help correct the course of U.S. food production and consumption — which in turn will help combat the ubiquitous diet-related ills of obesity, diabetes, cardio-vascular disease and certain cancers.
Changing hurdles to incentives
Farm policies favoring the industrial-scale, chemical-intensive production and consumption of highly processed foods contribute to our collective health woes, explains UCS in their recent report Ensuring the Harvest: Crop Insurance and Credit for a Healthy Farm and Food Future.
There's no complex academic argument here, it’s quite simple. Just make healthy-food farming easier by eliminating existing barriers to growing fruits and vegetables, and creating incentives promoting their production instead.
Currently, farmers who want to diversify their systems to grow a variety of fruits and vegetables encounter hurdles that other farmers don't face. Under current federal farm policy, farmers participating in commodity-production subsidy programs (supporting the production of crops such as corn, soy and cotton) are actually prohibited from planting fruits and vegetables except under certain conditions. These restrictions should be eliminated; healthy-food farmers must be afforded, among other things, equitable access to crop insurance and credit.
PAN's main focus in the current Farm Bill negotiations is defending those programs that encourage farmers to use practices that best protect soil, water and pollinator resources. We believe these programs are truly critical to ensuring productive, healthy agriculture for generations to come.
But we do recognize and want to highlight the importance of programs designed to increase access for all to healthy fruits and vegetables. Such programs are top priority for our colleagues at the Healthy Food Action campaign.
These are not competing efforts. We need a suite of programs that support healthy farms that promote consumption of healthy food throughout the U.S. For a great, concise overview of the various Food and Farm bill programs currently under debate see the recent report by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP). And stay tuned, as PAN and our partners across the country continue to press for a 2012 Food and Farm Bill that serves us all well.