Tag: nutrition

Breaking: The (Possible) End of the Agri-Nutritional Complex

The Roll Call blog has just broken news that the GOP House leadership has decided to drop food stamps from the farm bill, in an attempt to get the farm subsidies passed by the House, presumably with Republican votes alone. Nutrition is quite an “appendage” to jettison, by the way: it usually accounts for about 80 percent of all “farm bill” spending. Here’s a great infographic on food stamp usage from the Wall Street Journal online.

I think this development could be very good news: I have long called for splitting the food welfare (or “nutrition”, as it is euphemistically called) portion of the farm bill from the subsidies part. Legislators should be forced to vote on all of these programs on their individual merits, not as part of some logrolling extravaganza. The costs and benefits of programs to feed poor people deserve to be considered separately from farm subsidies, and ideally belong at the state or, even better, local community level anyway. Do we really need the federal government specifying that our kids eat greek yogurt? But I digress.

The problem is that farmers just don’t have the political or demographic clout that they used to (and in any case are starting to squabble amongst themselves) so it has long been believed that you need to load up farm subsidies with other, somewhat related programs more palatable in urban and suburban districts. That’s why energy, environmental, and food stamps are included in the “farm bill”. If you include enough goodies for diverse special interests, you’ll cobble together the votes.

That cynicism was turned on its head, though, when the farm bill failed last month because the Republicans thought food stamp spending was too high (even after some cuts and tightening of eligibility criteria). The Democrats, on the other hand, thought the cuts were too severe. Votes were lost on both sides of the aisle.

So, by dropping food stamps, GOP leaders think that enough Republicans will vote for this new bill to pass, even without Democrats’ support. They might be correct: clearly, powerful people in Congress think that all of these hippy issues are distracting attention from more deserving welfare programs, like farm subsidies. But I am not too sure: without sufficient Democratic votes on a subsidies-alone bill, they would need every R vote they could get, and some of the Republicans aren’t too keen on farm subsidies, either.

Another, promising development in this new farm bill is the repeal of the 1949 Agriculture Act. I said in a blog post a few weeks ago (and, indeed, on many other occasions before) that the key to reforming U.S. agricultural policy is to repeal the permanent legislative infrastructure—of which the 1949 Act is an important part—that lies behind the deplorable farm bill circus to which the American body politic is subjected every five years. By taking this law off of the books, farmers and their political supporters couldn’t threaten us with dairy cliffs and other elements of farmageddon if we don’t pass farm bills.

A huge, important caveat to all of this hopeful thinking: the GOP leadership may be splitting the bills only so they can pass them piecemeal with the hope of rejoining farm subsidies and food stamps in conference with Senate Democrats (the Senate passed their bill, logrolling intact, already), then have the conference report pass the House with Democrats’ support. Certainly Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) is by all accounts disappointed that the farm bill failed to pass and is looking for another vehicle, or several vehicles, to push this puppy through. That’s not something to get excited about: death by a thousand drips of poison is still death.

The other problem, which is theoretically fixable, is that the new GOP bill doesn’t repeal the 1938 Act, which includes several commodity titles that aren’t covered by the Agricultural Act of 1949, including price supports and marketing quotas, and the establishment of the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation. So the 1938 Act has to go, too, if we are to be fully threat-free.

I am sure that others will disagree with my analysis of how the votes will break down, and my analysis of parliamentary procedure regarding conference, etc. I’m really not too interested in that, anyway. My main concern is to get American agricultural policy on the road to reform/elimination, and in my eyes these two developments could be helpful toward that end.

Don’t Tread on My Plate

Last week First Lady Michelle Obama and the U.S. Department of Agriculture unveiled “ChooseMyPlate.gov,” an updating of the federal government’s ongoing efforts to lecture us on how to eat. While the idea of nutrition recommendations from Washington, D.C. isn’t itself new, the past couple of years have seen a lurch toward a more coercive approach, especially under the Obama administration, under pressure from a burgeoning “food policy” movement, as I explain in a new Daily Caller op-ed:

All sorts of nannyish and coercive ideas are emerging from that [movement] nowadays: proposals at the FDA to limit salt content in processed foods; mandatory calorie labeling, which poses a significant burden on many smaller food vendors and restaurants; new mandates on food served in local schools; advertising bans; and on a local level efforts to ban things like Happy Meals at McDonald’s. No wonder many parents, local officials and skeptics in Congress are beginning to say: Back off, guv. It’s my plate.

The fact is that the federal government’s dietary advice has changed often through the years—the Washington Post had a great feature on past federal dietary guidelines, under which sweets and even butter held their place as food groups—and that government’s recommendations have regularly proved wrong and even damaging, a point that Steve Malanga elaborates on in this City Journal piece (“Following the government’s nutritional advice can make you fat and sick.”)

Yesterday, C-SPAN’s Washington Journal had me on opposite Maya Rockeymoore of the group Leadership for Healthy Communities to discuss issues that ranged from the school lunch program to whether Washington should serve as an “arbiter” of contending dietary claims, an idea I didn’t much care for. You can watch here.

Agriculture Cuts to Usher in the Apocalypse

Harold Camping is “flabbergasted” that the world did not end on May 21st as he had predicted. I think it’s because he didn’t account for the devastation that will be wrought by Republican budget cuts for fiscal 2012, which doesn’t begin until October 1st. Therefore, Camping’s new predication that the world will end on October 21st is much more plausible.

Yesterday the House Appropriations Committee’s subcommittee that deals with agriculture and nutrition programs passed its bill, which will now be considered by the full committee. According to the committee’s numbers, discretionary funding for these programs in 2012 would be $17.2 billion – a $2.7 billion reduction versus 2011.

According to a statement released by the subcommittee’s ranking member, Sam Farr (D-CA), the four horsemen are readying their saddles:

Farmers will be broken. Jobs will be lost. Ag economies will crumple.

Wow, even though “the farm economy [is] booming”? I half expect to see Rep. Farr waving a “The End is Near!” sign from a street corner in early October.

The Associated Press reports that “hunger advocates” are particularly upset by an 11 percent funding reduction for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). (“Hunger advocates” is the AP’s bizarre term for advocates of federal welfare programs.) The AP cites an estimate from a group of “hunger advocates” that the cuts could deny benefits to 475,000 people otherwise eligible for WIC.

If you’re looking for Republicans to defend the cuts on the basis that there’s nothing “progressive” about depending on a federal bureaucracy for sustenance then you’re going to be disappointed:

Republicans who wrote the bill said the cuts in domestic food programs are taken from excess dollars in those accounts, and participants won’t see a decrease in services.

Subcommittee chairman Jack Kingston (R-GA) basically says that the cuts are about making the federal government more efficient:

This subcommittee has begun making some of the tough choices necessary to right the ship. We have taken spending to below pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels while ensuring USDA, FDA, CFTC, and other agencies are provided the necessary resources to fulfill their duties.  Our members have worked to root out waste and duplication and, where they have strayed from their core mission, we rein in agencies so they may better focus on the responsibilities for which they are intended.  In doing so, we balance the urgent need for fiscal restraint with the necessity to provide an abundant food supply, robust trade, prudent conservation measures, and strong rural communities.

Sorry, congressman, but if the media is going to uncritically report the “women and children will suffer” argument, the “root out waste and duplication” counter-argument isn’t going to win the heart of the average American who probably thinks WIC is something that comes out of a candle.

For all the angst over cuts to discretionary spending, I don’t see much discussion over the fact that, according to Republicans, mandatory spending for agriculture and nutrition programs will increase by $3 billion – from $105 to $108 billion. Spending on food stamps, which unlike WIC, is basically on auto-pilot, would increase by almost $6 billion. I’m guessing that the “hunger advocates” didn’t plug that number into their equation.

I’ll end on a positive note by pointing out that Cato’s Downsizing the Federal Government website has essays on why it would be truly “progressive” to eliminate farm subsidies, rural subsidies, food subsidies, and other federal welfare programs.