Sunday, May 20, 2007

Too bad nobody reads the papers...

Editors across the country are wading into farm bill opinions. A current sampling:
Last year, the Minneapolis-based Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy published a study by Heather Schoonover and Mark Muller that looked at the change in food prices from 1985 to 2000, the same period during which child and adult obesity began to escalate. In that time, the price of fresh fruits and vegetables increased by 38 percent. During the same time, the cost of soft drinks plummeted by nearly 23 percent, with significant declines in the costs of fats and oils, added sugars, and meat and dairy products. The authors cited farm bill spending priorities as a direct cause of this price disparity and resulting dietary imbalances.

In 2000, the surgeon general warned that the United States was in the throes of an obesity epidemic, with nearly two-thirds of Americans either clinically obese or overweight. As the link between obesity, Type II diabetes and heart disease has become clearer, a new dietary reality is emerging. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the estimated medical costs of dealing with the obesity and diabetes epidemic now surpass the total costs of the farm bill itself. The current subsidized food system, then, is anything but cheap. [More]

The source is worth noting as I think California is very much more in play for this farm bill. Just a few votes there, ya think?
For too long, the emphasis in agriculture legislation has been on handing handsome benefits to a small number of big-time farmers and farm businesses, at the expense of everyone else, including smaller farmers.

Instead, the program should be designed to pursue four goals: Help feed the hungry at home through food stamps and other programs; wean the farm industry from taxpayer support; protect the environment; and eradicate unfair trade practices built into the current system. [More]

Of course, the deeply-thinking tanks have lobbed some serious papers onto the battlefield as well. The powerful American Enterprise Institute offered these mild observations:
Elimination of farm subsidies for corn, wheat,
and soybeans would have little effect on farm
production or commodity prices. These Title 1
subsidies are in effect “money for nothing.”

Current dairy policy also transfers millions of
dollars from consumers to dairy farmers; the cost
to consumers and taxpayers far exceed the benefits
to dairy farmers.

Tough talk - but just talk. It is hard for me to take the AEI seriously. Farm policy has been one sin they easily tolerate to accomplish some greater good elsewhere in the economy. The right wing has shown little inclination to invest effort in reforming agricultural policy.

Perhaps the sleeper idea is the bi-partisan reform bill offered by Sen. Dick Lugar and Rep. Jeff Flake (among others). Just like the immigration bill - which oddly may have a chance simply because we have forgotten the power of compromise - this idea may have legs by virtue of its bi-partisan authorship and the fact it actually addresses some of the concerns being trumpeted above.

Of course, Memorial Day will anesthetize Washington shortly, and the immigration issue seems to have sucked the oxygen from the political debate, but for some reason, this proposal strikes me as at least worth following.

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