Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Last Four Years: Change at the USDA

Many of us with interests in agricultural and food policy issues have felt a little left out during the Presidential campaign. The candidates have not talked much at all about agricultural or food policy. Yet, it is one area of distinct change that came with the Obama administration.

Prior to the Obama administration, the USDA had very little interest in providing support to the local food movement. There was nothing similar to the current Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Program. Recall that the KFKF campaign was developed over the strong opposition of many Republicans; see Senators Challenge Know Your Farmer.

The USDA, under the leadership of Secretary Vilsack now provides a wide range of resources and support related to KFKF, all within the existing budget, including:
Other new initiatives developed over the last four years include a variety of programs undertaken to improve our food system in ways that address the public health problem of obesity, including:

First Lady's Let's Move campaign, one of her signature areas of emphasis

Revision of USDA nutrition guidelines to incorporate My Plate and its graphic portrayal of the importance of fruits and vegetables
  • New Dietary Guidelines stressing fruit and vegetable consumption
  • Revised guidelines for School Lunch programs to focus on better foods.
Some of our readers may prefer the old USDA and the former policies that focus efforts only on large scale production efforts. Some may challenge the value of any of the local and regional food efforts.  From an economic standpoint, however, regional and local food systems are now considered to be a significant avenue for sustainable economic growth.  Multiple reports from diverse research groups indicate that local foods are an economic engine for communities, as local jobs are created and purchasing dollars stay within the community. The Obama administration, which has also indicated its consistent support for production agriculture, has coupled that support with a recognition of the many benefits of local/regional foods.

I cannot address former Governor Romney's ideas on agricultural or food policy. But, we have a record of four years of USDA policies in support of local/regional foods.  And, it is clear that this represents a dramatic shift from prior USDA policies that the Obama administration can claim as its own. Whether that shift continues may well be determined next week in the election.


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