October 11, 2015

Food Policy

As I delve more into the study of health and health care, I find myself learning more about the influence of government food policy on what we eat, and what is causing our epidemic of diet-related conditions: diabetes, cardio-vascular disease, strokes, and even cancer.

Michael Pollan wrote an exceptionally informative article in the October 12 New York Times Magazine, entitled “Farmers in Chief.” Among other observations, he makes the following points:

  • Our cheap grain-based diet, which includes simple carbohydrates like pasta, bread, pizza, and sugary desserts, meat, and high-fructose corn syrup is a result of government policies that heavily subsidize grains and fossil fuels.  I have talked previously about grain subsidies, which are in excess of $8 billion.  However, I had not appreciated the impact of previously cheap imported fossil fuels on food costs.  He points out the obvious:  cheap fossil fuel is a thing of the past.
  • I was also unaware that government policies specifically suppress the supply, and raise the price, of fruits and vegetables by prohibiting the production of specialty crops on farms receiving commodity subsidies.  Therefore, a great deal of potential healthy food production is stifled by government policies that protect a small number of specialty food producers.
  • The government also exempts feedlots from waste disposal regulations that would be applied to municipalities and other production facilities, which means that the cost of breeding animals in less healthy feedlot environments are artificially low.
  • Governments also influence what people eat through its procurement policies.  It specifies minimum calorie meals for school breakfast and lunch programs, but makes no effort to enforce nutrition guidelines, which means that less nutritional food is the easiest and cheapest path for school lunch providers.  Government also fails to use its procurement power for the military, for government cafeterias, and organizations receiving federal funds to require nutritious foods to be served, to be affordable, and to be abundant.  Government micromanages many things in procurement, but it has ignored nutrition.

These are just a few examples from a great article.  The bigger point is that if the next president were to announce that health, a safe environment, and energy independence were to be high priorities, food policy would be a great place to address all three issues.