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Should Obama Make Dept. of Agriculture the Dept. of Food?

In this week's New York Times, columnist Nicholas D. Kristof argued that changing the Department of Agriculture to the Department of Food would be appropriate since only two percent of Americans farm, while all of them eat. But more importantly a name change would send a powerful message of reform.

Kristof quotes Michael Pollan, the author of the Omnivore's Dilemma, who says:

“We’re subsidizing the least healthy calories in the supermarket — high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated soy oil, and we’re doing very little for farmers trying to grow real food.”

Kristof goes on to explain that Democrat and Republican presidents hand the department over to lobbyists for industrial farming. He calls on Barack Obama to end the trend and make the powerful agency about improving the standards of American food and spending taxpayer dollars more efficiently.

Would you like to see the Agriculture Department work on a healthy children’s school lunch program, promoting local food sources and sustainable organic farming, instead of subsidizing industrial farmers? Or do you think that will just make everything more expensive for the consumer?


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Michelann Michelann 8 years
"Note, the Constitution is silent on abortion, agriculture, veterans, gender issues, marriage and many other things. " Although it doesn't necessarily mention these things directly, the Constitution makes it perfectly clear than any power not expressly given to the Federal government becomes the states power. "And I have absolutely no idea why you think you are more qualified than the Court to determine what the Constitution means. Where does your authority come from?" Since when does a citizen need 'authority' to have an opinion on the cases that dictate the way their government is run? If the Supreme Court decides to completely ignore the law of the land (as they so often do), are we supposed to completely ignore it, or shrug our shoulders and say "Well, they're more qualified to read plan English than we are"? That's a ridiculous notion, and I don't even think you believe that. Being in the judicial branch of government does not give them immunity from criticism.
snowbunny11 snowbunny11 8 years
Michelin- it is the role of the Supreme Court to interpret the Constitution- so yes, no matter how ridiculous of a ruling they make, the only thing that can overturn it is a subsequent ruling or an amendment. We have a Constitution, not a Code, and so many questions need further explication. Note, the Constitution is silent on abortion, agriculture, veterans, gender issues, marriage and many other things. And I have absolutely no idea why you think you are more qualified than the Court to determine what the Constitution means. Where does your authority come from? Plus, it is really easy to see how my oranges come from Florida, my avocados from California, my corn from Nebraska, and so on. Very little of what I see in my grocery store is actually grown in my state, and it would be extremely difficult for every state individually to ensure the health and safety of tomatoes, romaine, beef, etc. from other states. All 50 states can't send inspectors to plants in all 50 states in all the different food industries to make sure that there's not too much shit in the tomatoes/beef/etc. That's why having federal regulations for these agricultural products of interstate commerce makes practical sense as well. And requiring local farmers to also not let too much shit get in their tomatoes, even if they are going to sell locally makes sense because the consumer isn't going to necessarily know that tomato A in their store is locally grown, while tomato B is not. Plus, we actually have come to expect that the food we eat won't have e. coli in it, so national standards make sense, in order to protect the consumer.
Michelann Michelann 8 years
And by the way, I did the homework you assigned Organic. I've read the case before, but it was a nice refresher. Definitely one of the most infuriatingly ridiculous Supreme Court cases. It essentially says that the clause giving the Federal government the right to regulate interstate commerce also gives it the right to regulate intrastate, non-commercial issues. Absolute nonsense.
Michelann Michelann 8 years
Snowbunny, I think you put too much stock in the opinions of the Supreme Court. Just because they make a ruling doesn't make it right. Their interpretation of the law is extremely fallible. If the Supreme Court made a ruling that the First Amendment actually meant you're not allowed to criticize the president, would you be alright with that just because the Supreme Court said so? I don't think so. It doesn't matter how many cases you can find showing precedent, local agriculture clearly doesn't fall under "interstate commerce". It's common sense.
snowbunny11 snowbunny11 8 years
Kranky! Abortion has nothing to do with this, and I genuinely hope you are not presuming to know my views on abortion. Anyway, I do think any animals that are produced for consumption, at least how we generally do in the US are not treated ethically, which is one of the reasons why I'm a vegetarian. Currently, the USDA does have inspectors that go into animal slaughtering houses to ensure that they are being ethically slaughter, and too make sure that not too many byproducts like bile from the stomach, etc. are making it into the food supply, and to make sure that the bacteria count is sufficiently low. Despite this, they do not send inspectors often enough, but at least the premise is there that the government has an interest in the safety and ethics of our food. I mean, this is an incredibly important thing- remember the tomato e. coli scare? And how we couldn't even figure out where the e. coli had come from? If anything, more efficient government involvement will protect the consumer. I'm not anti-farmer, but I can understand why they might not do everything completely safely and ethically if they need to compete to make a profit, which is why it is good to have some oversight. And honestly, I just don't understand why anyone would think they have the right to eat the products of such outrageous cruelty. If you think the treatment of the ducks is similar to the treatment of other animals, I'm not sure you do know much about how they are force-fed through a tube for their very short lives so they can be on your plate for a brief instant. I don't get what it is about eating something that can make it so worth the pain it caused to create it. I mean, at least watch a video of a duck being force fed, and imagine them doing it to your cat or your dog before you eat it again. At least be honest with yourself about what you're really eating. organic- start with Wickard v. Filburn, work from there
UnDave35 UnDave35 8 years
"He calls on Barack Obama to end the trend and make the powerful agency about improving the standards of American food and spending taxpayer dollars more efficiently." I don't care what you call it, but I'm all for the above statement.
kranky kranky 8 years
Good point on the sustainable argument org. There was a great thread a few weeks back where beavis clearly outlined that most farmers worth their salt know how to grow crops without leeching the soil. What the heck does sustainable agriculture mean anyway? Making sure that farmers who don't know how to properly farm don't do so? Then why subsidize and encourage bad behavior?
kranky kranky 8 years
"Who in their right mind would even want to eat foi gras!?" Me. But I can't understand why anyone would say a third trimester partial-birth abortion isn't a horrific thing, so clearly we have a lot to learn about each other's morals.
kranky kranky 8 years
snow- Ironically, I had to take off for a few hours for a lunch meeting - no brown bag today. I completely admit that I am not being 100% logical about my argument - I did mention that this issue makes me hysterical because I FEEL that my rights are being violated for not being able to eat foie gras in Chicago. (This not not rational - I have never been to Chicago, and I only very rarely eat foie gras.) However, I do occasionally parttake in it's yummy goodness, and though some States have taken that opportunity away, I am currently allowed to do so here in DC. I just can't wrap my brain around why the federal government would need to get involved in telling me what I can and can not eat. The ethical argument just does not wash with me because you could make the argument that most animals that are bred for food are maltreated. That seems so very UnAmerican to me, but hey that's America - we all disagree on things.
stephley stephley 8 years
It was way too veiled.
organicsugr organicsugr 8 years
That's quite a lofty idea you have of the federal government, and quite a criticism of federalism, the concept our country is based on. My point was that "sustainable" does not mean a lot. I'm not surprised you missed that implication.
stephley stephley 8 years
We're a society as well as a market and government serves its people by acting as a reservoir of accumulated knowledge and information sharing. Spread the knowledge over 50 states and we become Babel - reinventing the wheel 50 times over instead of growing together. I am less obsessed with taxes than I am with waste. And you shouldn't criticize organic farming as hype in the same comment that you suggest you don't know what 'sustainable' means in this context.
Jillness Jillness 8 years
Thank you Kranky! :) I forgot to mention that I do think a new approach to school lunches is greatly needed. I saw a program the other day about a poor school, and they were giving their kids bacon pizza for lunch! However, I think most of this starts at home...if we don't fix it there, it won't be fixed at all (I also heard a teacher say that kids were bringing in Spicy Cheetos and Cream Cheese as a breakfast!). I do think that the government has an interest in making people eat healthier, as so many bankruptcies are caused by food related illness and the medical expenses they cause. Diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, etc. are all very costly to treat and are an enormous burden on our economy. I don't think the government should attmept to force people to eat better, but they should certainly encourage it. But ultimately, learning moderation starts at home.
organicsugr organicsugr 8 years
Local food is not interstate commerce.
snowbunny11 snowbunny11 8 years
organic- agriculture falls under interstate commerce.
snowbunny11 snowbunny11 8 years
kranky- that's not the point, legislatures can legislate against cruel and inhumane treatment of animals, and production of food because it isn't prohibited in the Constitution. They can do whatever isn't prohibited- so me finding you an are that says you can't eat foie gras is irrelevant. Chicago can say you can't eat it, and the USDA can regulate for health, safety and ethical purposes the way you get your food.
organicsugr organicsugr 8 years
Why is promoting "local food sources and sustainable organic farming" appropriate work for the federal government? They're only actually allowed to regulate interstate commerce (and I don't think that's to make sure that all of our coffee is fair trade and sustainable, whatever that means). If you want your money to go to those things, you can buy products grown in that fashion. Since organic food is overpriced and mostly hype, I'd prefer if everyone's tax money didn't go toward subsidizing/promoting it.
LaurenG22 LaurenG22 8 years
Who in their right mind would even want to eat foi gras!?
stephley stephley 8 years
A Department of Food would be about educating people; promoting local food sources and sustainable organic farming would seem to be more appropriate work for the government - let the free market handle industrial farm issues. The Department could team up with groups already working on the school lunch issues - groups that help schools create gardens that the children tend and that supplies the lunch programs - teaching self-sufficiency, botany, farm management, and nutrition. Where's the problem with that?
kranky kranky 8 years
snow- I challenge you to tell me where in the Constitution it says I CAN'T eat foie gras or chicken for that matter. I would also like to point out that I eat foie gras and I assure I am neither a glutton nor fat, thanks. If you really want to change an attitude that you find personally offensive, then I suggest you try educating people - not treating them like children.
kranky kranky 8 years
Jill- I agree 100% with everything you said - especially with the distinction between healthy and safe foods. Thanks for the eloquence! :notworthy:
snowbunny11 snowbunny11 8 years
You don't have a constitutional right to eat products of cruelty. Seriously, I challenge you to find the clause in the Constitution that guarantees that right. Just saying. That's what I meant by my "fat American" comment, I was more trying to describe an attitude, the whole "I get to shove whatever I want in my mouth without worrying about where it comes from!" It's kind of appalling honestly. Yes, it has nothing to do with actually being fat, it's just kind of gluttonous. Not to mention the havoc that the factory farming system is wreaking on the environment. That affects everyone- everyone suffers for the bacon wrapped hotdog that someone insists on eating. Not only is the environment affected, but there is a higher cost of healthcare for someone who makes eating choices like that, and if they end up on Medicare or Medicaid, the taxpayer has to pay for that. I'm not saying we need to ban bacon-wrapped hotdogs, but I would approve of discouraging them, or at least have an administration that encourages healthier eating, and cracks down on cruelty, even if it means you have to pay more to eat meat. No, I don't think Congress should be subsidizing any agriculture, but I do think they should be actually enforcing the anti-cruelty regulations and policing the factories. And I think they should have policies encouraging Americans to eat healthier.
Jillness Jillness 8 years
I think that this is a very complicated issue, and right now I don't know specifically what separates the USDA from the FDA, from the office of Health and Human Services, and which issue would be left to which entity. Do we really need to create a new name, or can we just change the duties of a department we already have? I do agree that subsides need to be looked at. There is a lot of politics involved in government money and farms, and we should be able to see a clear benefit to whatever tax money is invested. I do think in some cases, subsides do have a positive benefit for our country, but certainly not always. I also think that the food industry needs to be safer. We have had health scares with spinach, tomatoes (false alarm) and chile peppers. The fact that they could not identify where the produce came from and where it went for many months is a GREAT vulnerability when it comes to terrorism, whether it is foreign or homegrown. I also think that the electrocuted-diseased cow that was processed and shipped to unknown whereabouts shows another sign of vulnerability. I think that healthy eating guidelines would be more of a responsibility of Health and Human Services department, because ultimately, the cause of the obesity epidemic is people making bad choices...not the fact that the food exists. It isn't the producers responsibility to make sure food is healthy, it their responsibility to make sure food is safe.
kranky kranky 8 years
snow- I am aware that the government is already involved in the food industry - that's why I said that the USDA does more than just subsidize farmers. I concur that the USDA subsidies need an overhaul (ever heard of the mohair one from WWII? Still in effect?) What I completely disagree with is the idea that the government should dictate to farmers what they should and should not be growing through granting subsidies. I believe that should be done in the marketplace - ie: consumers demanding and buying helathy foods. As for the fat Americans stuffing their faces comment - wow, just wow. People stuffing their faces has nothing to do with subsidizing corn products and everything to do with individual choices. The powers that be sat on transfats and it has done NOTHING to combat the obesity problem in America. If people want to eat 7000 calories a day, they will do so, with or without high frustose corn syrup. Instead of taking away options for all of us (which violates my Consitutional rights I believe), I say spend money on educating people about their dietary choices. Finally, I am well aware of the foie gras industry, no need to Google it.
snowbunny11 snowbunny11 8 years
Kranky- the govt. already is involved in the food industry, Kristoff's point is that they should reprioritize and be more responsible to the consumers, not to the farmers because farmers don't necessarily have our nutritional interests at heart, hence HFCS in everything. I can't blame the farmers for wanting to maximize their profits, but we shouldn't keep electing officials who are subsidizing the farmers to give us unhealthy products. And the factory farms need to be better regulated. I'm sorry, but I don't think consumers should have the choice to enjoy products of cruelty so they can pay less. That is one choice that should be off the table, but somehow I don't see fat Americans giving a crap about anything but stuffing their faces with whatever they want. And foie gras is illegal in some places for a very very good reason. Google it if you must.
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