Thursday, March 17, 2011

Go to Health: The 2012 Farm Bill: What you can do

Every five years, Congress writes a Farm Bill that establishes our nation’s food and agricultural policies. The 2012 Farm Bill will cost approximately 300 billion. It’s largest slice, the Nutrition Title, governs foods bought by those on food stamp assistance. Currently, farm policy has driven down the price of commodities such as corn and soybeans, resulting in lower prices for high fructose corn syrup and soybean oils. Our consumption of unhealthy foods made with these substances has increased. At the same time we have grown and eaten fewer vegetables and fruits; their production has not been subsidized, and their prices have increased over the years.

Many organizations interested in local food production, water and soil quality, and the health of our population are working on changing the way we support farmers. A prestigious group of nutrition experts, including Walter Willett of the Harvard School of Public Health, Marion Nestle at New York University and Andrew Weil, have written a charter for a healthy farm bill, which concerned citizens are urged to sign. The charter calls for a new food system that is:
*healthy – accounting for health impacts on farmers, workers in food industries, and eaters
*sustainable – protecting natural resources and biodiversity
*resilient – overcoming challenges of climate change, pest resistance, and problems with expensive water and energy
*fair – providing fair access to affordable and healthy food, and fair conditions for farmers, workers, and eaters
*economically balanced – providing economic opportunity across the nation’s states, for a diverse range of farmers and workers , from local to global in scale
*transparent – farmers, workers and eaters should be able to participate in decision making on food production distribution, marketing, and disposal.

You can sign the Charter for a Healthy Farm Bill by going to the website of There will undoubtedly be more discussion and controversy than ever before as the new farm bill is debated and written. Energized and informed people (you are probably one of these!) confront a system that has given rise to overproduction of foods for animal feed and underproduction of healthy vegetables and fruits, and a national health crisis. This column will continue to discuss the new Farm Bill in coming months.

While you are at the website for, you can also sign a petition asking President Obama to set the course for a new cancer prevention strategy, by eliminating the use of potentially cancer-causing chemicals in our food and environment, such as Bisphenol-A (BPA) and Dioxin.

BPA is a compound used to make polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins.. BPA is known as an ‘endocrine disrupter’ because of its estrogenic properties and possible effects on fetuses and young children. It has been found in the internal coating of food and beverage metal cans to protect the food from direct contact with metal. It is also found in polycarbonate bottles. Eden Foods has eliminated the use of BPA in their canned and packaged foods, and Muir Glen organic tomato products will be BPA free this year. You can find foods from Eden and Muir Glen at many natural food stores.

Dioxins are chemicals that enter the atmosphere as by-products of the bleaching of paper pulp, chemical and pesticide manufacture, and burning of trash. The defoliant Agent Orange, used by the US in the Vietnam war, contained dioxin. Stay tuned for a more complete discussion of BPA, Dioxin and other chemicals in my forthcoming columns. You will be pleased to know that Bolinas citizen Sharyle Patton, working at the Biomonitoring Resource Center and the Collaborative on Health and the Environment at Commonweal, is a world expert on the chemicals in our environment and their effects on our bodies. Her research is having an important impact on policy in many countries.
Sadja Greenwood, MD back issues on this blog