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Obama states facts about food system, backpedals

by: desmoinesdem

Sat Nov 01, 2008 at 15:04:57 PM PDT

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This isn't much of a diary, but I wanted to pick up on some thoughts jgoodman expressed recently.

Assuming Barack Obama wins the election on Tuesday, we will have a president who appears to understand some of the problems with our current energy and agriculture policies. From a recent interview Obama gave Time magazine:

There is no better potential driver that pervades all aspects of our economy than a new energy economy.
I was just reading an article in the New York Times by Michael Pollen [sic] about food and the fact that our entire agricultural system is built on cheap oil. As a consequence, our agriculture sector actually is contributing more greenhouse gases than our transportation sector. And in the mean time, it's creating monocultures that are vulnerable to national security threats, are now vulnerable to sky-high food prices or crashes in food prices, huge swings in commodity prices, and are partly responsible for the explosion in our healthcare costs because they're contributing to type 2 diabetes, stroke and heart disease, obesity, all the things that are driving our huge explosion in healthcare costs. That's just one sector of the economy. You think about the same thing is true on transportation. The same thing is true on how we construct our buildings. The same is true across the board.

The Des Moines Register (cheerleader for conventional agriculture) jumped on this story, which prompted some unfortunate backpedaling from the Obama camp:

The Obama campaign issued a statement on Thursday saying that Obama "was simply paraphrasing an article he read. He believes there are a lot of factors that contribute to obesity, heart disease and other health problems, but he certainly doesn't blame farmers."

But Ron Litterer, a Greene farmer who is chairman of the National Corn Growers Association, said Obama's comments in the Time interview were "in conflict with what he's been saying about agriculture, no question about it."

The Illinois senator supports farm programs and incentives for corn ethanol. He has aggressively courted the corn growers and other farm groups during his presidential campaign. Several past presidents of the corn group have endorsed Obama. [...]

Sen. Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican who supports John McCain, Obama's rival, said Pollan's ideas would be detrimental to Iowa's economy and increase hunger by reducing food production. Obama has been "very understanding of how farmers contribute to fuel as well as food and fiber," Grassley said.

Obama's campaign said his "strong record of standing up for farmers and America's rural communities speaks for itself."

The statement also said Obama would "bring the change rural America needs by increasing investments in renewable energy and giving family farmers the support they need by allowing them to diversify their crops and increase revenue."

The article goes on to quote Michael Pollan's New York Times article, pointing out that Pollan favors policies that would raise meat prices.

It also cites "a study to be published soon in the journal Food Policy," which allegedly "found no evidence that corn subsidies have affected the consumption of corn sweeteners."

Folks, even with a Democratic president and Congress, we are going to face enormous political and institutional resistance to the "change we need" when it comes to food policy.

Perhaps Obama's backpedaling is just a way to avoid giving Republicans any edge so close to the election, but I fear that even after the election, Obama will not be willing to spend his political capital on trying to change agriculture policies that have bipartisan support in Congress.

I don't have any bright ideas on how to approach this, but I wanted to bring Obama's recent comments to the attention of the La Vida Locavore community.  

desmoinesdem :: Obama states facts about food system, backpedals
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Well... (4.00 / 2)
it was never gonna be easy, but at least I believe Obama intuitively understands these issues even if he's not spelling it out right now.  I wouldn't expect him to rail against Industrial Agriculture right before the election, even though I would.  But then again that's probably one of the million-plus reasons that's Barack's going to be our next president and I'm not...


In the end, I think he'll do the right thing, but we'll have to just wait and see.  Of course I'm eagerly anticipating two key appointments of his on this issue - Secretary of Ag and Interior Secretary, the latter of which I will very soon begin openly and shamelessly campaigning for despite the massive odds against me.  Heh...

Realistically the best case scenario is pretty much anybody but Peterson in Ag; and me (heh...) at Interior (or at least Fish and Wildlife...).  Okay, seriously - either former Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber or Seattle-area US Congressman Jay Inslee (great first name!) at Interior.

FWIW, South Dakota's congresswoman Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin has been getting a lot of 'rumored mentions' for the Ag position lately.  For right now, I can deal with relative disappointment over imminent and immediate doom, which is what a McCain appointment would have surely brought there.

One step at a time, and of course you're definitely right in that we need to keep fighting.

One problem is that you won't find mainstream politicians of any stripe, even fire-breathing progressives, focusing largely on sustainable food issues because they're considered abstract and not sexy enough to be worthy of center-stage attention in the current national political climate, even with the constant headlines about rising food prices.  Inherently conservative nation that we are, I fear that it's unfortunately going to take widespread disaster before we see major changes in agricultural policy at the federal level.  

The best place to start with real change is, as always, locally.

I have no idea who he'll pick (4.00 / 2)
but I confidently predict that he will put someone good in charge of Interior and someone bad (that is, inclined to support the status quo instead of more sustainable policies) in charge of Agriculture.

[ Parent ]
Pretty much... (4.00 / 1)
the same way I feel then.

I'm thinking it'll be Inslee at Interior (good, although I'm really hoping for Kitz...) and Herseth-Sandlin (no comment, and not to mention probably losing that House seat...) at Agriculture; but with people like you and me agitating at the local level I think we'll still manage to get quite a bit of good done ourselves over the next few years.  And that's saying a lot from me, because growing up in North Jersey did make me quite a political cynic at heart...

Greatly appreciate your posts here by the way, and I light up like a little kid every time I see a new diary from you on the list here!


[ Parent ]
you are very kind! (4.00 / 2)
I don't think Obama will give up a House seat to pick Herseth-Sandlin for Ag Sec. There are too many other credible people to do that job. Perhaps even former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack.

[ Parent ]
I'm with you (4.00 / 1)
there's nothing I've seen that makes me believe he'll put anyone decent in charge of ag. And my hunch is that he probably doesn't really know the difference, or see the significance.

"I can understand someone from Iowa promoting corn and soy, but we are not feeding the world, we are feeding animals and soft drink companies." - Jim Goodman

[ Parent ]
And that's where... (4.00 / 1)
my cynicism comes into play.

I just voted for the guy on Thursday, and I'm really looking forward to 8 years of not having to watch our backs for knives constantly (at least, certainly not every friggin' day like the past well, forever....)...

But since I know I can really speak freely here (love ya, Jill!); I personally think he does understand this issue, but is willing to give this one away to corporate and 'mainstream political' interests (at least in the beginning) in exchange for getting most of the rest of his agenda passed.   In other words, like I've said before...we're going to have Bill Clinton 2.0.  Which is of course millions of miles ahead of Dubya 2.0, but still...

I'm fairly comfortable in stating that he's open to suggestion down the line, though...and Obama will clearly react and change policy for the better in the face of potential catastrophe much more decisively and quicker than a McCain would, if a McCain would at all.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that even though we don't have someone perfect in office, at least we'll have a real human being with a heart in there...

[ Parent ]
On the good side (4.00 / 2)
I think Obama will be interested in this and have it in the back of his head, and be looking for ways to improve things for his constituent midwestern farmer base and consumers at the same time, given the opportunity.

But, I agree he's not going to go in guns charging on this, nor would I particularly want him to, compared to the other issues. But maybe he'll be looking for that pivot, and that's a HUGE improvement over anyone else we have had or could have had.

As it was, he did a deal with a blancmange, and the blancmange ate his wife.

[ Parent ]
I think he knows the difference (4.00 / 2)
but doesn't want to rock the boat in this area (or really in any other area of great importance).

[ Parent ]
Well, there are a few sides to this (4.00 / 1)
I don't blame farmers for obesity either. They are doing the best we can and growing the crops they can sell under the insane system we've given them. But I also don't think Pollan's ideas will lead to increased hunger. If less food production meant more hunger and vice versa, than we wouldn't have very much hunger right now. More concentration of the food system leads to more hunger (and, ironically, more production) and that's what we've got right now. So I'm afraid I don't agree with Grassley on that.

"I can understand someone from Iowa promoting corn and soy, but we are not feeding the world, we are feeding animals and soft drink companies." - Jim Goodman

the whole system is crazy (4.00 / 2)
and of course Grassley conveniently ignores the tens of millions of Americans who do go hungry, even under the status quo.

I don't know how to fix this, since most members of Congress on the ag committees come from states that get the bulk of the ag subsidies now. Tom Harkin has tried to tinker with a few things, but he didn't push for any major new approach to the farm bill, and now it will be five or six years before we go through that process again.

[ Parent ]
USDA (4.00 / 2)
My guess is he will go with NFU president Tom Buis for Sect of agriculture. I know nothing about him other than people at National Family Farm Coalition (NFFC)  and Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC) seem to think he might be OK. I personally think NFU is getting to be too much like Farm Bureau which is pro big farming, GM crops, free trade etc.

Who would I like to see, Fred Kirschenmann perhaps, or Montana Senator Jon Tester. But never in a million years. Buis is probably acceptable to agribusiness, and small farm organizations as well. I think most of the new cabinet will be compromise. I doubt there will be much of the "raise less corn and more hell" crowd working at USDA any time soon. (sigh).

we need to keep Tester in the Senate (4.00 / 2)
We don't have a very deep bench in Montana.

Kirschenmann is a great guy but from what I hear not much of a manager, so probably not well suited for a cabinet position.

Not that Obama would ever pick someone so hated by corporate ag for that job!

[ Parent ]
Obama and his team...... (0.00 / 0)
Obama and his team are defending his pick for the United States Secretary of the Treasury, though it seems imprudent to appoint to one of the top financial posts in the country to a guy that makes big tax mistakes that require a massive payoff. Consumer confidence is the proportion of people who believe that the economy is going to be strong during the next few months. There is some hope on the horizon, as the manufacturing index has increased.  The manufacturing index is one of the key economic indicators of recession or growth, and a decline for two or months or more is one of the first signs that trouble is brewing.  The next biggest indicator is consumer spending, which actually rose in the month of January.  These are two of the biggest indicators of whether a recession is on, or if we're on the way out of one, so let us hope that consumer spending and the manufacturing index continue to rise at a good pace.

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