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Omnivore - The farm bill: Legislation to fatten us up

"Agricultural policy" does not have an exciting ring to it. Neither does "farm bill," which sounds doubly unappealing — politics and farming, two concepts many Americans find exceedingly boring.

Yet the 2007 farm bill, currently awaiting a vote in the House Agriculture Committee, decides what we grow, and through enormous subsidies, what will be cheaper — Coke or orange juice, potato chips or produce. Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma, writes about this and the other countless ways our country's food production is linked to things like obesity, global poverty, immigration, and the environment in his April 22 New York Times Magazine article "You Are What You Grow,"  (subscription only). It's a bill important to all Americans, and thus to the global community, and one which is in dire need of a revolution.

As Americans, the way we eat continues to wreak havoc on our national health. The surgeon general's declaration of an obesity epidemic brought it swiftly to national attention that we have a rather hefty problem with food.

What isn't so highly publicized is that while publicly battling obesity, our country pours money into the production of things like high-fructose corn syrup through huge subsidies given to farmers of the mass-produced commodity crops corn, soybeans, wheat, rice and cotton.

Thus, things are rigged so that the poorer you are, the more likely you are to be fat, since rationally, to eat on a budget means to eat crap. Over the past few decades, as American bellies loom larger and larger, the farm bill, which gets debated every five years in Congress, has laid out a national agricultural policy in direct conflict with national public health goals. Subsidies to commodity crops based on the amount farmers can grow encourage overproduction, flooding our food system with the products of corn and soy — mainly added sugars and fats. Practically no support has been given to farmers growing fresh produce.





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