Health: What Does Farm Policy Have to Do with It?

NCHC Writer

Nishi Singhal

Why should we care about the Farm Bill? Isn’t it policy that supports America’s farms and farmers? Well partially, but it also influences food policy: the availability of certain foods, prices, clean drinking water, chemical-free healthy food, food stamps, etc. It covers a wide range of issues that will, in some form, affect you and your health.

This bill deals with issues that are under the purview of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), an agency that releases the Dietary Guidelines for Americans with resources such as, the Food Pyramid and the latest, MyPlate.  The USDA recommends that fruits and vegetables make up about half of the food on our plates. However only a fraction of the Farm Bill goes to support healthy fruits and vegetables as they are categorized as “specialty crops,” and local food systems have no budget in the bill. If every American ate according to the USDA’s recommendations, there would not be enough fruits and vegetables for everyone.

Where does most of the bill go? Subsidies. Large subsidies to corn and soy producers have driven down the price of these commodity crops. Corn-based products have surged in the past decades; cheap corn has become a staple in highly processed foods: soft drinks, sweetened breakfast cereals, etc. Cows are now given corn, rather than grass, leading to higher calorie meat along with a higher ratio of omega-6 fatty acids to omego-3 fatty acids—a ratio linked to heart disease. Processed foods are in turn cheaper than fruits and vegetables and consequently, consumed more.

With the country’s current high obesity rates among both adults and children, and high health care costs associated with it, action within the Farm Bill may be a step in the right direction. Currently, policymakers are in the negotiation process for the 2012 Farm Bill and the issue of cutting costs within the bill has led to controversial debates. Some argue for sustaining food assistance programs, while others for cutting down on them in order to save costs. Another option could be to cut the amount of commodity payments. This option could save money and help us stay healthier.

Nishi Singhal joined the National Coalition on Health Care as a Paul G. Roger Scholar in the Summer 2012 after graduating with a Masters in Public Health in Health Policy and Administration from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Nishi’s interests lie in chronic disease prevention and its role in reducing health care costs. Nishi enjoys traveling abroad, reading, is learning to garden organically.