The policy arena re: food and agriculture will surely be quite lively over the next 18 months. Competing needs and priorities are being voiced, and have been voiced by economists, environmentalists, public health professionals, and others for some time. A quick look at the issues reveals that meeting all will be impossible. Obesity, food access, and the environmental degradation that results from conventional agriculture are three serious social problems. In addition to presenting current problems, of even greater concern are the long term implications in terms of environmental health, future food productivity and quality, and future human capital.
The farm bill is on the horizon, and much of the early popular discussion – as usual – targets the commodity programs. While you will be hard pressed to find an economist who claims these programs are efficient, they present a small portion of the total farm bill, and thus most of the discussion merely distracts our focus from more important issues. The other aspects of the farm bill address nutrition, environment, and conservation aspects of our food system; these are closely aligned with the social problems of obesity, access, and environmental externalities of food production.
One factor that is likely to make the upcoming discussion even more challenging than usual is the over zealous and poorly timed discussion in the legislative branch, where cutting federal spending and balancing the budget seem to have risen to the forefront of the discourse. Meeting the stated budget goals will create significant obstacles to addressing our social problems resulting from the modern food system; these problems are well recognized as “wicked problems,” which do not have a clear solution.
I plan to discuss issues of the food system in this blog, which includes covering new research findings as well as following the events in the policy world. Feel free to leave a comment or to send me an email (email@example.com).