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Farm Bill Offers Opportunity to Correct Our Unsustainable Food System

Union of Concerned Scientists

When Congress reauthorizes the Farm Bill this year, it should replace existing policies that subsidize junk food and encourage harmful farming practices with policies that prioritize healthy foods and farms, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).

U.S. agricultural policies are aimed, in large part, at providing assistance for corn and soybean crops, offering large subsidies for the key ingredients in processed foods. In addition to giving an unfair advantage to unhealthy foods—making them cheaper—it incentivizes farming methods that release millions of tons of toxic chemicals into our air, water and soil.

According to a UCS policy brief, Toward Healthy Food and Farms, forward-thinking agriculture policies focused on local foods, conservation and research, can transform the current food system into one that prioritizes nutritious foods and sustainable farming practices. The brief comes in advance of a Senate Agriculture Committee on local foods and nutrition.

“The Farm Bill presents an excellent opportunity to change the agricultural status quo in this country. This window of opportunity only comes up every five years, and it’s imperative that we get these policies right while we have the chance,” said Justin Tatham, Washington representative for UCS’s Food and Environment Program. “Now is the time to stop subsidizing junk food and start rewarding farmers growing healthy foods using practices that protect the environment.”

In 2010, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) shelled out $5 billion to subsidize corn and soybean crops that are primarily used for processed foods and animal feed. The USDA offered only a fraction of this amount—about 7 percent—for fruits and vegetable crops. These figures are not in keeping with the USDA’s own nutritional guidelines, which emphasize fruits and vegetables as the foundation of healthy diets.

“Farming cannot continue as a factory-like system. The current food system is wholly dependent on fossil fuels, pesticides and artificial fertilizers. And this system is just not sustainable,” said Tatham.

According to UCS, farm policies should encourage farmers to grow a diverse array of nutritious foods while incorporating farming practices that do not harm public health or the environment. The best way to do this is through policies that incentivize growing fruits and vegetable and increase investments in local food systems, including farmers markets, food hubs and community supported agriculture programs.

“While no one expects to transform the food system into a sustainable enterprise overnight, through the farm bill, we can begin to include provisions—like investments in local foods—that make sustainable farming methods and growing healthy produce both profitable for farmers and affordable for consumers,” stated Tatham.

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