Is U.S. agricultural policy fundamentally flawed?
Since the Nixon administration, when then Secretary of Agriculture, Earl Butz, led the drive to invigorate agriculture production by encouraging farmers to become bigger, and to maximize production even as commodity prices would likely fall over time; sales quantity, and the opening of foreign markets to U.S. farmers were seen as a means to offset shrinking profit margins. Recognizing clearly the political potency of agriculture policy to control, or destabilize other countries, rising food prices at home could also produce similar, but (obviously) undesirable, destabilizing effects. Every administration since Nixon has had at its national core the objective of increasing U.S. agriculture productivity, and efficiency—to keep our own food prices low.
The question Carlo Petrini, and other food activists and policy experts are asking, have we made our food too cheap, and even worse, through the 90 billion dollar Farm Bill— (subsidized) promoted the wrong foods to be eaten? For those, not in the so called food movement, are people like Petrini advocating the poor spend more on food, or simply do with less? Some experts argue in response, let the federal farm bill shift its subsidies to whole foods (as opposed to ingredients for processed foods), and to help small and mid-sized farmers produce food in a more sustainable fashion over a long time frame. The premise being: make it cheaper to purchase a bunch of carrots than a box of cookies to encourage people of all economic means to eat more healthy foods —let the junk, and fast food become expensive to eat.
In this segment, Carlo Petrini, founder of Slow Food International levels a charge many Americans may find difficult to accept. We should spend more for the food we eat!
Petrini points out, as a percentage of our overall disposable income spent on food, we spend less than most other industrialized nations in the world. The core of Petrin’s argument cuts to the heart of what constitutes food quality, along with a broader view of the full costs (economists refer to these as externalities) associated with the production of cheap food. To Petrini, cheap food is the principle goal of industrial agriculture, and its focus upon profit as measured by increasing levels of productivity and efficiencies, while largely ignoring the associated costs upon the environment, public health, and the well being of the farmers who produce the food.