Tuesday, July 03, 2007
Farm bill will shape what we eat
When Americans gathered to celebrate the Fourth of July in the early days of the Republic, they may have dined on onion pie, pea soup and Johnny cakes (cornbread). Now, we're more likely to grill hamburgers and hot dogs.

You don't have to go back centuries to find significant changes in the American diet. You just have to go back three decades - to around the time of the Bicentennial.

The per capita daily supply of added fats and oils has increased 38 percent since the 1970s, according to the U.S. Economic Research Service.

Typically, you'll find these added fats in processed foods such as cookies and fast food favorites such as french fries and donuts. A lot of artery-clogging trans fats comes from these added fats and oils, primarily soybean oil.

As the added fats in our diets shot up since the 1970s, so too did the U.S. obesity rate. The percent of children considered overweight or obese has doubled since the 1970s, from 15 percent to 30 percent.

What may surprise you is that the U.S. government has paid billions in subsidies to soybean growers, prompting overproduction of the primary source of these added fats and trans fats in our diets.

The result has been lower prices for less healthy foods.

By contrast, fruits and vegetables are considered "specialty crops" by Congress and ineligible for subsidies. The price of produce has continued to rise.

"We need to create an environment where it's easy to eat healthy. Right now, if price is your chief concern, the rational choice is to eat crappy food," says Dr. David Wallinga, director of the food and health program for the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy in Minneapolis.

This summer, Congress is working on the Farm Bill, a massive piece of legislation that will have a profound influence not only on what farmers plant but also what we eat for years to come. And that will play a role in the nation's health.

Groups that follow the Farm Bill don't expect any big policy changes. What do you think Congress should do in the Farm Bill to promote healthy diets?

And as you enjoy your Independence Day, you can take comfort in your dietary connection to our ancestors. Apple pie was popular back in 1776, and Thomas Jefferson dazzled visitors to Monticello by making ice cream using ice harvested from the Rivanna River.
"A lot of artery-clogging trans fats comes from these added fats and oils, primarily soybean oil."

I think you are a little mistaken here about soybean oil, ... calories of fat yes but not artery clogging from soybean oil, there is no cholesterol in soybean oil. I think it is a little bit more healthy than you are suggesting:)

BUT, yes, it would be wonderful if fruits were as available and cheap as soybeans!

"Soybean oil is a very healthy food ingredient despite the bad publicity regarding fats and oils in general. Soybean oil is very popular because it is cheap, healthful and has a high smoke point. Soybean oil does not contain much saturated fat. Like all other oils from vegetable origin, soybean oil contains no cholesterol. Saturated fat and cholesterol cause heart diseases and mainly found in products from animal origin such as milk, cheese and meat products. Soybean oil contains natural antioxidants which remain in the oil even after extraction. These antioxidants help to prevent the oxidative rancidity."

BUT, yes, it would be wonderful if fruits were as available and cheap as soybeans but without knocking the profit for the fruit growers like has happened to the grain farmer.
I would like to know more about how the Farm Bill will affect farmer's rights to use their own seed stores. I recently watched a documentary which detailed a serious issue of pesticide companies buying out seed companies, and then genetically modifying the seeds and patenting the product. Now, that sentence may not mean much without a few other comments- genetic modification was explained as being made possible by using BACTERIA and VIRUSES as carriers for new genetic information into the cell walls of the plant. Also, since these mega-corporations own the patents to the widely-used seed, any farmer who is found to have plants from these patented seeds, which may have blown onti his property accidentally, can and likely will be sued for patent infringement. Is is right to be able to patent a living thing such as a plant? And why are we allowing genetically modified foods to enter consumer markets without thorough testing to ensure long-term safety?
Commodity subsidies, especially the trade-distorting commodity subsidies that encourage over-production of things such a soybeans, need to be reduced in the 2007 Farm Bill. By rewarding farmers for their practices rather than their production, the 2007 Farm Bill has the potential to remove the incentive to over-produce crops that get turned into unhealty additives.
It's interesting that the foods Congress is pushing via the farm bill are not wholly in sync with those recommended by the FDA in their famous "food pyramid".

Right now, I think the farm and ag lobbies are driving the content of this bill from a financial perspective. The real change will come when cities and schools work to eliminate trans-fats as a staple ingredient in foods. I think New York City has implemented a change like this as well as some school districts.
We definetly need reform of our current farm regulations and subsidies. We as consumers must take our share of the blame though, if the majority of us refused to buy unhealthy foods companies would be forced to produce better alternatives. Current regulations are partly to blame for the low price of soybeans and corn which are the most prevalent ingredients(in one form or another)in junk foods.

Most food companies follow there bottom line and use the cheapest oil possible. Soybean oil is not as healthy as Canola or Olive Oils. It contains a much higher ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3(the more desirable but most absent in our diet) fatty acids. Worst of all ,most of the soybean oil ends up being hydrogenated and we all now know how bad trans fats are for us.

Soy products other than it's oil are being pushed as health food which is a very overinflated claim. It's very difficult to make edible for humans and usually contains chemical contamination from the extraction processes, not to mention the excessive amounts of naturally occuring hormones, which can be detrimental to human health. Corn and Soybeans are the two biggest crops in this country due mainly to Government subsidies. Eighty percent of the corn goes to feed animals, mostly on factory farms or "feedlot operations" that are dirty, inhumane and a large source of pollution. Runoff from a cattle farm is what caused the recent lettuce-E.Coli scare.

If we as a country ate more fruits and vegetables and less meat and junk food, the agricultural tide would be made to turn in the favor of healthier crop production. Although I cetainly won't hold my breath.
It's sad that we are giving subsidies for a "fad" started in the 90's that has proven to saturate 60% of our grocery store shelves. Proven medical reports and testing have shown horrible health risks from soy. (not going to elaborate, go look up the medical reports yourself) I have a difficult time finding anything with any sort of processing that doesn't contain the substance. Not that I especially favor foods that have been processed just give me a break. Our government controls the amount of soy allowed to go into dog food, and the American public is on their own. Even Asians, who initially encorporated soy into their diets, did so in very tiny amounts as opposed to the dosing we take in the US. My dream would be to subsidize the foods that will put America back on a healthy diet, the fruits and vegetables. Remove the over production of soy or at least clearly mark the labels so I can easily avoid it.
Congress should not pass this bill as it is currently written. The current language in the farm bill includes language that would make NAIS (The National Animal Identification System - more info at nonais.org) mandatory. NAIS has no hope of acheiving what the USDA says that it will achieve.

What does NAIS mean to me? It means that the government will put the small farmers out of business, the farmers that I choose to purchase my healthy food from.

The government needs to stop making choices for ALL. It would be better for the government to sponsor education about nutrition, healthy eating and healthy lifestyles rather than to regulate everything.

Not all consumers are ignorant when it comes to the choices they make, nor should they be treated as such. There are those of us who are informed about what we choose to put in our bodies and want those choices to stay available, but the government continues to force their decisions regarding what we are supposed to eat and consume.

There should be truth in labelling of all foods, as well as truth in where all of the ingredients come from.

We should be allowed to purchase any and all food we choose to purchase from individual farmers, this includes purchasing raw milk from a farmer of our choosing.

We should be allowed to purchase raw almonds if we choose - as of Sept 1st of this year, the government is taking away this choice.

We should be allowed to raise our own animals for food and allowed to share that food with others who believe in our practices for raising those animals without the government mandating that we have to tag/track/count each individual animal on a daily basis.

We should be allowed to provide organically raised foods for our families without exorbitant costs of the same organics. Organic/sustainable should be the norm and not the exception.

The more the government gets involved with our choices the less likely we, as a society, are to be allowed to choose healthy, nutrient dense food.
What, no comment about high fructose corn syrup making us obese?
I am a farmer. I get farm subsidies. I would like to see more money used to promote fruit and vegetable production. But all of this is useless if we do not educate the public as to what to eat. Low income families that have to rely on food stamps do not make good sound food purchases (yes, I know there are exceptions). I have been behind too many using their EBT cards and watched what they were purchasing to be told otherwise. There are very few that fill their carts with good canned foods and healthy meats. I have seen too many sugar drinks instead of juice. I have seen too many processed and prepared foods instead of from scratch (which is cheaper).
To say the Farm Bill is causing obesity is ludicrous. To say laziness and an uneducated consumer is causing obesity is correct. Obesity is simple= If you take in more than you put out, you get fat! You can not blame the government for everything. We as consumers have to take responsibility for our actions.
It's tempting to give credit to or blame the farm bill for the relatively low cost of food in this country. But the facts--something this issue is in dire need of--don't find the farm bill as a significant factor.

As an economist who has investigated this issue, I've found it's other factors that make our food affordable. The relatively high levels of income are a big reason for why we spend less than 10 percent of our incomes on food. Someone from a third-world country, for example, would be no better off buying food in the U.S. Another major factor is technology. Over time, improvements in technology allow the same land to produce much greater crop yields. That keeps per unit costs declining.

Look at other countries for examples of a lack of evidence for a link. Australia and New Zeland spend relatively very little on farm programs but have obesity rates comparable to the US. Japan and S. Korea, on the other hand, spend relatively much more and have very low obesity levels.

I'm not saying low-cost fattening food isn't making us obese. Nor am I defending the farm bill--I think it needs a major overhaul. But to assume it's the major culprit behind our expanding waistlines is rather spurious.
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