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The Farm Bill Has Fleas?

November 5, 2007

This Sunday’s New York Times featured an op-ed article by Michael Pollan, Weed It and Reap, in which Pollan states his concerns with the current Farm Bill. Pollan,author of the New York Times bestseller The Omnivore’s Dilemma, views the 2007 Farm Bill as continuing “in the traditional let-them-eat-high-fructose-corn-syrup mold.” The massive piece of legislation that is the Farm Bill covers a wide variety of interests and has engendered strong feelings and differences of opinion as it comes up for vote in the Senate. NYCCAH’s Joel Berg responds to some of Pollan’s more pointed comments:

“Michael Pollan claims that environmentalists and the “hunger lobby” are bought off in the farm bill, giving our support to the harmful “elephant in the room” – agribusiness subsidies — in exchange for funding for conservation programs and food stamps, which he derides as merely “fleas.”

But blaming us for bad farm bills is like blaming long-suffering Mets fans – seated in the far upper deck at Shea Stadium – for the team’s overpaid players and year-end collapses.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, agribusinesses contributed more than $399 million to federal political campaigns between 1990 and 2006. In contrast, even when some anti-hunger groups (such as mine) risk alienating donors by opposing corporate farm welfare, we hardly impact this big-money debate.

Considering that the Food Stamp Program helps more than 26 million Americans each month, it is no mere “flea.” Fighting to help millions avoid starvation, anti-hunger advocates take what we can get.

Mr. Pollan betrays his class bias in saying that processed food is not “real food.” While I agree with him that we shouldn’t be subsidizing sugared cereals and candy, his blanket condemnation of food processed by machines seems based on the assumption that working Americans have nothing better to do than mill their own flour, grind their own corn, make their own apple sauce, or create their own peanut butter from scratch.

He implies that the hunger problem in America would be magically solved if the government merely stopped subsidizing corn and other commodities which incur his wrath. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 35 million Americans live in homes that face food insecurity, unable to afford enough food even with today’s low prices for subsidized commodities. Thus, while Pollan’s proposal to reduce the disparity between prices for produce and those of other agricultural products would certainly improve nutrition for some, it would do little to aid the poorest, hungriest Americans.

To truly help that population, we need to return to an America in which people earned enough through full-time work to be able to feed their families. Until that time, we still need a stronger and better-funded Food Stamp Program.”

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