Home > Food, Politics > A simple, but not easy, solution to a host of food related policy problems.

A simple, but not easy, solution to a host of food related policy problems.

I had a “Eureka” moment earlier today regarding Agriculture Subsidies, Protection of Small Farms, Healthy Eating, and who knows how many other issues! Here goes: Don’t eliminate Agricultural Subsidies, redirect them so they promote real small and family farms, so they stop making processed food cheaper than real food, so they help struggling families make the transition to healthy eating and cut big agriculture (almost) entirely out of our food delivery systems! How to do that? Read on…

Conceptually this is very simple: Take ALL the money that subsidizes agriculture, both direct and indirect, and put it in one place: Instant rebates at grocery checkout for unprocessed food!

Granted: there are a whole host of details hidden by my simple statement that would need to be addressed. And granted: There would be severe problems during transition. And granted: There are a lot of moneyed interests who would scream squeal should this idea receive widespread dissemination. And granted: Those same moneyed interests have a lot of political power these days, making implementation unlikely.

But think about it.

Why do studies show that lower income people eat less wholesome food than people with more money available for food buying? Because highly refined and processed food, transported great distances is currently cheaper than unprocessed, locally grown food – and this counter intuitive fact is largely the result of our current policy as expressed by where we put our money: Agricultural, Transportation and Fossil Fuel subsidies.

By giving the same money directly to the consumer of food we want to promote, we turn the status quo on it’s head! We would be incentivizing producers who sell directly to grocers. The small farmer could afford to go organic, because organic is inherently unprocessed (or minimally processed), and those small farmers who would also be subsidized (indirectly) by putting their competitors – Agribusiness at a competitive disadvantage. Large, factory farms won’t do well if their product isn’t subsidized because they’re designed around a system that depends on a high amount of processing to distribute their output. Suddenly, the price of processed food would reflect the real costs.

There are a lot of assumptions I’ve made, along with first and second level details I can anticipate, that need more thought, but in search of brevity, I’ll only list them:

  • Where do we draw the line between “Processed” and “Unprocessed”?
  • Should the size of the subsidy be inversely related to the distance to market?
  • Is unprocessed food better for us than processed food?
  • Is our current level of subsidy, if redirected as described, enough to keep our poor fed while the system adjusts to the new paradigm? Growing small, local farms is a process measured in years. perhaps decades.
  • How will grocers know how much rebate to give on each item? Especially for the smaller, non-chain, neighborhood grocers without the latest and greatest computerized checkout?
  • How do we supervise things to prevent Big Ag from gaming the system?
  • Feel free – in the comments – to add to this list!

I’m going to stop now. One criticism that friends, family and co-workers often make of me is that I beat things to death by overwhelming my audience with details. I end with one more quick thought, then a simple question:

Thought: I believe this would have significant (but hard to quantify) good effects on the overall health of the nation, including reduction of the obesity epidemic in the US.

Question: What do you think?

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