Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Challenges to Agricultural Policy: Diet

Two issues are certain to change American agriculture. There are questions about timing - how fast or how slow policies will change and agriculture will adapt. And, there are questions about how the changes will occur, who will benefit and who will lose. But these two issues - health and energy - are two of the most important challenges to confront our society. And agriculture is right in the middle of each one. This post addresses the first - the issue American health and our diet.

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, established jointly by the Secretaries of USDA and HHS was charged with reviewing the current U.S. Dietary Guidelines and recommending updates. The committee's report, 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans was released yesterday.

For the first time, the report confronted an American public of whom the majority are overweight or obese and yet under-nourished in several key nutrients. The recommendations could have been taken from a Michael Pollan book -
On average, Americans of all ages consume too few vegetables, fruits, high-fiber whole grains, low-fat milk and milk products, and seafood and they eat too much added sugars, solid fats, refined grains, and sodium. SoFAS (added sugars and solid fats) contribute approximately 35 percent of calories to the American diet.
Here are three of the main recommendations:
• Reduce the incidence and prevalence of overweight and obesity of the US population by reducing overall calorie intake and increasing physical activity.

• Shift food intake patterns to a more plant-based diet that emphasizes vegetables, cooked dry beans and peas, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. In addition, increase the intake of seafood and fat-free and low-fat milk and milk products and consume only moderate amounts of lean meats, poultry, and eggs.

• Significantly reduce intake of foods containing added sugars and solid fats because these dietary components contribute excess calories and few, if any, nutrients. In addition, reduce sodium intake and lower intake of refined grains, especially refined grains that are coupled with added sugar, solid fat, and sodium.
Compare this to Pollan's advice in In Defense of Food - "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."

The report talks about the importance of all elements of government and society working together to attempt to shift dietary and lifestyle patterns away from our current dangerous path.

I submit that agricultural policy must come on board with this shift. We can no longer ignore the fact that agricultural policies favor the production of foods and food ingredients that are a significant part of the problem. Policies that have encouraged the overproduction of commodity crops such as corn have enabled the development of processed foods and meat products that are cheaper than and easier to acquire than the basic "plant-based foods" that we should be eating. Policies that are focused on the economic interests of those most powerful in the agricultural and food industries without a consideration of the overall food system that is created is part of the problem.
A coordinated strategic plan that includes all sectors of society, including individuals, families, educators, communities, physicians and allied health professionals, public health advocates, policy makers, scientists, and small and large businesses (e.g., farmers, agricultural producers, food scientists, food manufacturers, and food retailers of all kinds), should be engaged in the development and ultimate implementation of a plan to help all Americans eat well, be physically active, and maintain good health and function. It is important that any strategic plan is evidence-informed, action-oriented, and focused on changes in systems in these sectors.
The following recommendations, excerpted from the report should be included as primary goals of our future farm policy.
• For all Americans, especially those with low income, create greater financial incentives to purchase, prepare, and consume vegetables and fruit, whole grains, seafood, fat-free and low-fat milk and milk products, lean meats, and other healthy foods.
• Improve the availability of affordable fresh produce through greater access to grocery stores, produce trucks, and farmers’ markets.
• Increase environmentally sustainable production of vegetables, fruits, and fiber-rich whole grains.
• Ensure household food security through measures that provide access to adequate amounts of foods that are nutritious and safe to eat.
In a recent article, I called for an agricultural policy based on the goal of producing healthy, affordable food in a sustainable manner. A Reconsideration of Agricultural Law: A Call for the Law of Food, Farming, and Sustainability. This report supports that call.

The USDA is seeking comments on the report and a hearing will be held July 8, 2010.
Written comments can be submitted at or mailed to Carole Davis, Co-Executive Secretary, Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, Room 1034, Alexandria, VA 22302.

To provide oral testimony at the July 8 public meeting, you must register by going to or by calling Crystal Tyler at (202) 314-4701 prior to 5 p.m. EDT on June 30. The meeting will be held in the Jefferson Auditorium in the USDA South Building, 14th Street and Independence Avenue, S.W., on July 8 beginning at 9:00 a.m. and ending not later than 5:00 p.m.

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Blogger Dave said...

I'm glad that this report is as blunt as it is. In spite of arguments about the excessive availability of cheap processed sugars and fats, my experience has shown that good whole grains, dry beans, fresh vegetables, and fruits are readily available for pretty low prices. However, these things are inconvenient and about as far from the lime light as any food product can be. Ask any random person if anyone in their household knows how to cook dried legumes or rice and they will probably shrug their shoulders more often than not. Somehow the general public not needs to be educated not only on proper nutrition, but also on how to cook and work with all of the wonderful things coming off of America's farms.

7/06/2010 12:05 AM  

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