image via Devil's Haven
Those were heady days, back in ’08, when we ushered in our 44th President.
He knew what arugula was and ate at really good Chicago restaurants. His family avoided high-fructose corn syrup and bought organics.
Could our new President be one of us?
A national dialogue.
Michael Pollan published an open letter to our new ‘Farmer in Chief,’ outlining the interconnectedness of cheap oil, rising healthcare costs, the environment, and the food industry. Gourmet Magazine’s Ruth Reichl offered suggestions for the White House chef, and Alice Waters contributed to a shortlist of candidates for the next Secretary of Agriculture.
President Obama seemed to talk the talk of a food progressive.
That’s why it felt like we were sucker punched when Tom Vilsack, former governor of Iowa and staunch defender of ethanol and biotechnology, was tapped as Secretary of Agriculture. Since then, the administration has gotten awfully cozy with agricultural biotech firms, approving or deregulating three new genetically modified crops since the first of this year alone. In the case of the newly deregulated genetically modified sugar beets, they were allowed to defy a court order to complete an Environmental Impact Study so that they could be rushed through the approval process. Over at the FDA we saw genetically engineered salmon similarly fast-tracked for approval.
And we don’t want them.
According to a series of Consumer Reports polls, most Americans want to keep genetically modified foods off store shelves, and would even like to see the cloning of food animals outlawed. If they are approved, 95% of us would at least want identifying labels for food products from genetically modified animals. In the face of this overwhelming consumer mandate, the USDA is still not pressing for this concession from producers.
There have been flashes of promise, mostly in improved food safety regulations and oversight, and a few notable appointments from the sustainable agriculture arena, but progress is hobbled by the administration’s flawed vision. It sees food policy as an issue of production rather than consumption, and treats rural America, agricultural interests, and regulators as its constituents.
Instead, we need a food policy that puts the focus on the food.