Celebrity Chefs Unite to Express Frustration on 2012 Farm Bill
Seventy leading chefs, authors, food policy experts, nutritionists, CEOs and environment and health organizations sent an open letter to Members of Congress today urging lawmakers to reinvest federal farm and crop insurance subsidy dollars into programs that feed the hungry, protect the environment and promote the consumption of local, organic and healthy food.
This unprecedented action has brought together numerous recognized experts in the field of food and nutrition. Signers include Chef Mario Batali, Chef Tom Colicchio, Chef Alice Waters, Food Inc. film director Robert Kenner, author Michael Pollan, New York University nutrition professor Marion Nestle, The Family Dinner author Laurie David, author and farmer Wendell Berry and medical expert Dr. Andrew Weil.
Kari Hamerschlag with Environmental Working Group (EWG) and authors Anna Lappé and Dan Imhoff initiated the group letter. It is an expression of frustration that the Senate agriculture committee’s draft of the 2012 farm bill lacks meaningful reforms and does not reflect broad public interests.
The letter “applauds the positive steps that the proposed bill takes under Senator Debbie Stabenow’s leadership” to support local food and healthy foods programs. It says that the Senate agriculture committee’s proposal is “seriously out of step with the nation’s priorities and what the American public expects and wants from our food and farm policy.” The Senate bill, arguably one of the most important pieces of legislation Congress will consider this year, is set to go to the floor in the coming week.
“Unless we—meaning all of us who eat and pay taxes—demand Congress fundamentally change the way it writes the next farm bill, I can guarantee the interests of agribusiness will once again come out on top,” said Ken Cook, president and co-founder of EWG. “We have a real opportunity to compel members of Congress to work on behalf of our health and the environment if they hear from all of us now. Eaters—it's time to get in the game."
The letter says:
“We are deeply concerned that it would continue to give away subsidies worth tens of billions of taxpayer dollars to the largest commodity crop growers, insurance companies and agribusinesses even as it drastically underfunds programs to promote the health and food security of all Americans, invest in beginning and disadvantaged farmers, revitalize local food economies and protect natural resources.”
The letter strongly objects to any cuts in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as the food stamps program. Senate agriculture leaders have proposed to cut SNAP by $4 billion dollars. The letter calls for serious reforms to the crop insurance program in order to “ensure comprehensive payment caps or income eligibility requirements.”
On June 4, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) announced she would propose an amendment to cut subsidies that go to private crop insurance companies and use the savings to pay for food assistance programs and to support healthy and balanced diets.
The letter champions conservation action, asserting that “growers collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars in insurance premium subsidies should at least be required to take simple measures to protect wetlands, grassland and soil,” a requirement that is currently absent from the Senate Farm Bill proposal. Without this requirement, the letter says, “unlimited subsidies will encourage growers to plow up fragile areas and intensify fencerow-to-fencerow cultivation of environmentally sensitive land, erasing decades of conservation gains.”
An amendment to require crop insurance subsidy recipients to meet minimal conservation practices is expected to be introduced when the full Senate considers the bill.
“We have a great opportunity to rebuild our communities and food and farming systems from the ground up by investing in stewardship, local and organic food production, the next generation of farmers and ranchers, and sound nutrition,” said author Dan Imhoff. “To make that happen, the public needs to dig in politically and vote with their forks.”
You can read the full letter and list of signers here. Below are a sampling of statements:
“Let's hope that the draft farm bill voted out of the agriculture committee can be improved on the floor,” said Michael Pollan, Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual author and healthy food advocate. “Though it contains some important provisions in support of local and healthy food programs, it gives billions in unlimited crop insurance subsidies to commodity growers while doing little to support precisely the kind of diversified, sustainable farms we need. This is not—yet—the healthy food bill the American public has made clear it wants and deserves.”
"Investing in healthy food, healthy diets and critical nutrition programs for millions of struggling families across the country should be the priority as Congress writes the next farm bill," said Marion Nestle, the Paulette Goddard Professor in the Department of Nutrition at New York University. "Not more subsidies that send billions of scarce federal funds to the bank accounts of Big Food producers."
"We need a farm bill that supports farmers, rural communities, and those who are hungry, not a bill that gives unlimited subsidies to the biggest commodity producers while at the same time cutting programs for the neediest among us," said Anna Lappé, author of Diet for a Hot Planet and cofounder of the Small Planet Institute. "We stand with the millions of Americans who share this common sense perspective."
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
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