Tag: Agriculture

They’re Coming for Your Vittles Too

One of the fantasies being pushed around in progressive circles is the idea of “national food policy”. I’ve been mulling this article for a few months and have finally decided on a response. Here is their case:

The food system and the diet it’s created have caused incalculable damage to the health of our people and our land, water and air. If a foreign power were to do such harm, we’d regard it as a threat to national security, if not an act of war, and the government would formulate a comprehensive plan and marshal resources to combat it. (The administration even named an Ebola czar to respond to a disease that threatens few Americans.) So when hundreds of thousands of annual deaths are preventable — as the deaths from the chronic diseases linked to the modern American way of eating surely are — preventing those needless deaths is a national priority.

The national food policy could be developed and implemented by a new White House council, which would coordinate among, say, the Department of Health and Human Services and the USDA to align agricultural policies with public health objectives, and the EPA and the USDA to make sure food production doesn’t undermine environmental goals. A national food policy would lay the foundation for a food system in which healthful choices are accessible to all and in which it becomes possible to nourish ourselves without exploiting other people or nature

They then go on to list a smorgasbord of Nanny State desires: restrictions on advertising, farm policies guided by environmental concerns (because starvation is a good cure for obesity), a “fair wage” for people in the food industry (because food made at minimum wage makes you fatter), humane animal treatment, sequestering farmland for global warming purposes and making sure “all Americans have access to health food”. The last one is particularly odd because all Americans do have access to healthy food. The so-called “food deserts” are a myth. The problem is that too many people choose to eat junk.

Reading it again, I’m struck by the ignorance and panic-mongering. To give one example: farming has become much more environmentally friendly over the last couple of decades thanks to improved methods, technological advances and genetic engineering. We are feeding more people on less land than we used to.

I have to agree with Daniel Payne.

As a practical matter, this plan is utter nonsense and transparently authoritarian. In the past I have used the term “food system” as shorthand for the industrial paradigm of food production, but for Bittman et al. to talk about the “food system” in such a way exposes it for the ridiculous concept it really is. There is no “food system,” not in the sense of a truly unified body of fully interdependent constituent parts: the “food system” is actually composed of millions of individuals acting privately and voluntarily, in different cities, counties, and states, as part of different companies and corporations and individual businesses, in elective concert with each other and with the rest of the world. To speak if it as a single “system” is deeply misguided, at least insofar as it is not a single entity but an endlessly complex patchwork of fully autonomous beings.

Here’s the thing. We don’t have to speculate whether government food policy would be a good thing or a bad thing. We know. We already have a raft of government food policies and they have been a disaster. Our government has spent decades pushing food policies that helped create the very problems these authors lament. And it was based on special interests, nannyism and junk science.

Our government spent years telling us how bad salt was for us. The health nuts wanted dietary salt restricted by law. They have now been forced to admit that the salt guideline they pushed on us for decades was unhealthily low and that salt intake is only important to high-risk individuals.

After years of telling us that cholesterol was evil, they’ve had to admit it’s not that harmful. After years of pushing us away from animal fats toward trans fats, they had to reverse course when it turned out trans fats were worse than animal fats. Ron Bailey today summed up just how wrong the nannies were.

Most of the government’s recommendations were derived from “consensus statements” based largely on the results of observational epidemiological studies. The new revisions tend to be based on prospective epidemiological studies and random controlled trials. Observational studies may be good at developing hypotheses, but they are mostly not a good basis for making behavioral recommendations and imposing regulations.

(I would add that the low-fat fad had its origin in the seriously flawed and possibly fraudulent Seven Countries study.)

The thing is that all these supposed menaces were presented with absolute certainty. Salt was evil. Animal fats were killing us. Cholesterol was destroying America. Organizations like the Center for Pseudoscience in the Private Interest would label foods as lethal and scream for restrictions and bans. People who dared to question them were branded as tools of “industry”.

We’re still not done. Our government spends billions of dollars subsidizing food production and targets subsidies toward the foods that are the least healthy. It is spending enormous amount of money and destroying our freedom to get us to burn ethanol. That is, it wants us to burn food in an engine-destroying, atmosphere-polluting, greenhouse-gas belching special interest orgy.

Under Obamacare, restaurants were forced to include calorie counts on their menus. But calorie listings not only cost money, impinge freedom, they don’t fucking work.

Under Obama, school lunches have been made almost inedible and high schoolers are going hungry. Day care centers will soon be forced to limit juice and ban fried foods. The condescending privilege is so thick you can taste it. The Obama people think every school and daycare in the country can run down to Whole Foods and pick up some low-fat, low-sugar organic produce that never casts a shadow. And then they wonder why daycare is so expensive.

Yet somehow, these decades of failure, decades of misguided policy, decades of junk science, decades of lunacy are seen not as a reason to hesitate but as justification to exert more control over America’s diet. Because with the progressives it never really is about facts; it’s about control.

The latest demon du jour is sugar. Progressives are calling for restrictions on sugar based on the rantings of crackpots like Robert Lustig, who claims sugar is a “dangerous drug” and “poison”. With more junk science in tow and such insane abuse of the English language, the nannies are now advocating for a sugar tax, specifically on the most vile of concoctions — sugary drinks — to … well, it’s not clear what.

The stupidity of that is simply mind-boggling because our government already spends billions of dollars driving down the cost of sugary drinks through farm subsidies. So they want to tax us once to make sure we have enough high fructose corn syrup to keep us fat and happy. And then they want to tax us again to keep us from drinking our subsidized drinks.

(Lustig, in a moment of sanity, at least acknowledges that we eat lots of sugary stuff because the government subsidizes it and advocates for eliminating those subsidies.)

That’s to say nothing of progressive opposition to genetic engineering, free trade and other innovations that have made our food safer, healthier, cheaper, more plentiful and more environmentally friendly than ever before.

I’m with Penn. Fuck these busybodies. Let’s put aside the arguments about freedom and personal responsibility — even though those are the most important ones. Let’s concentrate on this: they have been wrong, over and over again. If the had the power twenty years ago that they want now we’d have less food, less money, more obesity, worse health and a dirtier environment.

Slowly, the Truth About Ethanol Emerges

We’ve talked quite a bit about the dangerous delusion of ethanol fuel. It creates (maybe) as much energy as it consumes, so it doesn’t actually benefit our energy situation. It diverts corn to fueling cars instead of people, thus raising global food prices and causing hunger. It tears up engines. It doesn’t benefit the economy. And … to cap it off … it actually harms the environment.

Conservatives and libertarians have been saying this for a decade. Looks like the AP finally caught on:

But the ethanol era has proven far more damaging to the environment than politicians promised and much worse than the government admits today.

As farmers rushed to find new places to plant corn, they wiped out millions of acres of conservation land, destroyed habitat and polluted water supplies, an Associated Press investigation found.

Five million acres of land set aside for conservation — more than Yellowstone, Everglades and Yosemite National Parks combined — have vanished on Obama’s watch.

Landowners filled in wetlands. They plowed into pristine prairies, releasing carbon dioxide that had been locked in the soil.

Sprayers pumped out billions of pounds of fertilizer, some of which seeped into drinking water, contaminated rivers and worsened the huge dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico where marine life can’t survive.

The consequences are so severe that environmentalists and many scientists have now rejected corn-based ethanol as bad environmental policy. But the Obama administration stands by it, highlighting its benefits to the farming industry rather than any negative impact.

All right, let’s take on that last part first. I don’t know of a polite way to say this but … to hell with the farming industry. I am sick and tired of Washington’s romantic vision of farming and anything that can remotely be called farming. We’re not talking about Ma and Pa Kettle tending their 40 acres like my grandparents did; this is Monsanto and DuPont and other mega-businesses raking in tons of money to rape the land. This is driving family farmers to ruin their own plots. One of the main characters in the AP’s report is a family farmer debating whether to ruin his 91 acres while out-of-towners buy up the entire county and plow up the land for corn. Ethanol isn’t <>Little House on the Prairie.

The key to understanding the Obama Administration has never been their supposed socialism or radicalism or Alinskyism or whatever else Sean Hannity has been talking about this week; it’s how much they bend and sway for every big special interest group out there. The healthcare reform bill was practically written by insurance lobbyists and honed by union lobbyists. Their labor policies are entirely dictated by union money. They never proposed a serious alternative to the sequester because they couldn’t figure out which special interest to sell out in favor of the others.

And their “environmental” policy is not dictated by science, data or any concern for the Earth. It’s dictated by alternative energy interests. It’s dictated by campaign contributors and bundlers. And it is dictated by the massive ethanol lobby that continue to rake in billions from this planet-befouling, car-destroying, economy-crippling poison. And the only reason there is now a growing pushback? Because some lobbyists are now aligning against ethanol.

You should read the entire article, which is long but worth your time. The idiocy and mendacity of the Administration would be astounding except that it’s what we’ve gotten used to from these clowns. They are puzzled that artificially driving up the price of corn has resulted in … people growing far more corn than the environment can realistically support. They’ve turned back decades of progress that has seen crop yields boom while land use, fertilizer use and pollution have fallen. In some areas, they are driving us toward a second Dust Bowl. Remember when Obama used to say no lobbyists would work in his Administration? Yeah, he had ethanol lobbyists and their adherents on his staff.

Ironically, it was the EPA that saw what was coming and tried to warn them about it. The Administration responded by — tell me if this sounds familiar — forcing the EPA to change its analysis until it produced the conclusion they wanted.

This is a catastrophe. And the people who should be leading the charge against ethanol are Obama’s own dim-bulb supporters. I can guarantee you that if five million acres of conservation land disappeared under Bush, the environmentalist would be going completely apeshit. But the most we’re getting is polite missives and “concern” and a thousandth of the protest we’d get if Mitt Romney squashed a daisy.

If you paid more ofr organic food, you where had..

So says a NYP quoting a peer reviewed academic study.

Researchers at Stanford University’s Center for Health Policy analyzed 237 studies in the scientific literature for evidence that organic foods are safer or healthier. They found that fruits and vegetables that met the criteria for “organic” are on average neither more nutritious than their far cheaper conventional counterparts nor less likely to be contaminated by pathogenic bacteria like E. coli or Salmonella.

Many folks buy organic to avoid exposure to harmful levels of pesticides. Bad idea: Yes, nonorganic fruits and vegetables had more pesticide residue, but more than 99 percent of the time the levels are below the permissible, very conservative safety limits set by regulators.

Ironically, the designation “organic” is itself a synthetic bureaucratic construct that makes little sense. It prohibits the use of synthetic chemical pesticides — except for a long list of exceptions detailed in the Organic Foods Production Act.

I have always known that paying twice as much for organic food was stupid, but h, it’s your choice if you feel it is a good deal. If you still want to keep at it, be my guest. Unlike the vultures that want to ban the food I don’t mind eating for whatever reason, I am not going to stop anyone that is willing to pay twice as much for the illusion of something better. Enjoy it. Don’t mind my chuckling though.

Sitting in the Tall Cotton

Well, this is a start:

A House committee voted to cut off crop subsidies to growers with more than $250,000 a year in adjusted gross income on Tuesday — a dramatic tightening of the farm safety net.

The Appropriations Committee also voted to make cotton growers effectively pay for the $147 million a year U.S. payment to Brazil, the victor in a trade dispute over American cotton supports.

“It’s a great sign Congress is ready to end these subsidies,” said Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican and sponsor of the cuts. Both were adopted by voice vote. Only one dissenting vote was heard on the vote for a lower eligibility cap.

But of background. A number of years ago, to a thunderous “duh”, the WHO found that our subsidies to farmers were distorting trade markets and hurting farmers in other countries. The Obama Administration decided the best way to prevent a trade war with Brazil was not to cut cotton subsidies in this country but to subsidize Brazilian farmers too. It seems that Congress has figured out that this is monumentally stupid.

The higher limit on farm subsidies is also good and Obama really can’t oppose it since he called for the exact same thing. To be honest, I’d prefer not to have such hard cutoffs. The big agri-businesses will probably find ways around them anyway. I’d prefer to massively shrink the Department of Agriculture, eliminate all of the subsidy/price-support programs and replace them with a single program that helps struggling farmers on a case-by-case basis in times of drought or market glut. Such a program would be much closer to an insurance program than an outright subsidy and eliminate a huge number of ongoing trade disputes.

First ethanol, now subsidies. The Republicans are showing a little bit of spine when it comes to farm interests. No a lot, but a vertebra or two. At this rate, they might be able to stand up to the senior lobby within a few decades.