The World Doesn’t Want us to Feed Them– That Should be Part of Our National Food Policy

I have wanted to comment on a couple of recent articles that have taken the issue of “feeding the world” and “a national food policy” up a notch– well there is no national food policy, and perhaps it is time there is one.

Many supporters of local food production were glad to see these topics put in print in the New York Times and Washington Post. I agree, food is something everyone deals with everyday, many without thinking about where it came from, how it was produced, what kind of chemical residue it carries, its nutritional value. Others of course probably saw talk of national food policy as more socialism from the liberal media.

Mark Bittman in his New York Times piece hits a lot of points right on target. He notes that, hunger is about a lack of money, not a shortage of food. And on displacement of traditional farmers, here he may be soft selling it by saying “buying the property of traditional farmers and displacing them” often the land is not “bought” but the farmers are forced out by the government in a “public, private partnership” with multi-national agribusiness— these “land grabs” are not uncommon in Africa and the rest of the Global South.

His closing thought, “Our slogan should not be let’s feed the world, but let’s end poverty.” says a lot, ending poverty would allow people to buy the food that we know is available, it would allow farmers, fishers and farm workers, among others in the food supply system, to be paid a fair wage and perhaps it would put to rest this mantra of “We need to feed the world” –-a mindset used to justify everything from fracking, to CAFO’s, to environmental destruction, to virtual slavery, to GM crops.

Perhaps that might be the centerpiece of a national food policy? –-We don’t need to feed the world.
Lets feed ourselves properly, let the rest of the world feed itself as their cultures would prefer and if they or we need help, lets work together on it??

The Washington Post piece by Mark Bittman, Michael Pollan, Ricardo Salvador and Olivier De Schutter, gets into the question of food policy, that basically we, as a nation, should have a plan for feeding ourselves.

We have a defense plan, a transportation plan, a plan for crime and punishment lots of plans, many of them not so good, like our energy plan, and most of the time we, the people, have little say in how those plans are formulated.

As the authors note, food touches us everyday, we need a plan to ensure there is enough food, it is safe, available, affordable, produced in the most environmentally protective way possible and that farmers and food workers are paid fairly. We don’t need a policy that is designed, as our current food system is, to protect corporate profit here in the US or worldwide by “feeding the world”.

The authors seem to miss this point entirely when they note that, Our food system is largely a product of agricultural policies that made sense when the most important public health problem concerning food was the lack of it and when the United States saw “feeding the world” as its mission.

They need to talk with a few farmers, ––the US never stopped seeing that as “our mission”. They need to read some of the popular farm press, (Farm Journal, Hoards Dairyman, Successful Farming, etc.) Feeding the world is the current excuse for everything—- GMO’s, 2,4-D crops, CAFO’s— we have a world to feed, that line is used more and more by everyone from CAFO farmers to University Presidents. As I noted, if we could get rid of this line of thinking, we might actually be able to think about a national food policy.

They also mentioned Mexico’s passage of a national tax on junk food and soda, what a great idea, but how long until that law is challenged by one of the “Free Trade” pacts that our President and Congress love so much? If NAFTA, CAFTA, or the WTO can’t stop that threat to corporate profit, The President and a Republican controlled House and Senate will surely find a way next year.

They point out the FDA’s “toothless voluntary guidelines” on antibiotic use in livestock production,— so true. Most antibiotics are not given to sick animals, they are used to promote faster growth, thus the rejection of any mandatory effort to phase out this sub-therapeutic use by the drug industry.

So, we do need a real national food policy, one that gives people rather than industry the final say, one that is, if you wish, “healthy, green, fair and affordable”. One that, as the authors say, encourages good health rather than undermines it. And one, I would add, that respects the right to a decent and dignified living for farmers, farm workers, fishers and the women who feed most of the worlds population.