What’s Included in the Senate Farm Bill?

Economic Tidbits 12.18.17

The U.S. Senate last week passed its version of the 2018 farm bill in an 86-to-11 vote.  Like the House farm bill, the Senate version is evolutionary in the sense it retains much of current commodity programs but tweaks some of the minutiae.  Continue reading

Food Guidelines Should Focus on Nutrition

steve corn head shotEvery five years the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) goes through a process to review the dietary guidelines for Americans. Those of us who are a little bit older will recall the guidelines being reflected in the iconic ‘Food Pyramid’ taught in school to earlier generations. Younger generations know these guidelines today through USDA’s “My Plate” initiative.

USDA is currently in the process of (once again) of reviewing nutritional standards, but this time around there’s a major twist, one that’s of growing concern to farmers and ranchers and to anyone who is focused on nutrition and freedom of food choice.

Previous iterations of the guidelines have focused solely on nutrition, (i.e. identifying how many servings a day of fruits, vegetables, proteins, grains, dairy, etc. are necessary for a balanced diet). This time around there’s a movement to try and tie other factors into the nutritional mix, including how food is produced.

For example, should a vegetable that requires more water to grow and requires greater transportation to get it to market be downgraded in USDA’s guidelines because of potential environmental impact, even if it has the same nutritional value? That’s the type of scenario USDA is considering for inclusion in nutritional standards this time around.

America was founded on the principle of an individual’s right to choose in the marketplace. If enough people want hamburgers that come from cows that were specifically raised in Nebraska, someone will fill that market. That’s what America was founded on and why it’s still the greatest country in the world.

When it comes to nutrition, science can tell us the exact make up of our food so we know just how many calories, carbohydrates, fats, etc., are in what we eat. Knowing that information and making recommendations on how much someone should have from a basic consumption standpoint makes sense for guidelines that are supposed to help people make informed dietary choices. However, putting different foods at odds based on where they are grown, how they are grown, and what goes into the process of getting them to market is something entirely different. Those should come from personal choice, not government recommendation.

There are many forces at work that are interested in limiting your food choices. Those interests have wrapped themselves in the idea that such reforms are somehow needed to save the planet or protect food animals in some way. Those ideas are clearly on display in California where residents are finding out the hard way the implications of misguided policy actions. Egg prices have nearly tripled from a year ago due to a movement pushed by animal rights activists to place restrictions on how chickens must be housed on farms. The changes were made under the guise that chickens need to be treated differently, when in reality, the groups that pushed for these modifications believe that we shouldn’t be eating eggs at all.

Allowing USDA to move what should be science-based dietary recommendations in a direction that advances extreme activists agendas for groups like PETA and the Humane Society of the United States are not good, particularly for those of us who like to eat and have a say in what we put in our mouths. At Farm Bureau we believe there’s clearly a role for government to help people make informed dietary decisions, but that shouldn’t include telling you how and where your food should come from. Some things should still be your choice and Farm Bureau will continue to work to keep government overreach off your plate.

“Never Bite the Hand that Feeds You”

FOOD exhibitIn a recent trip to Washington, D.C., I made sure to stop by one of my favorite Smithsonian museums – The Museum of American History. This time it was definitely on my touring highlights for their new exhibit: FOOD: Transforming the American Table 1950-2000.

The exhibit was promoted as exploring some of the major changes in food and wine in postwar America including new technologies and their impact on production, preparation and consumption. However, the American farmer was largely missed despite the fact that one U.S. farmer produces enough food to feed 155 people, up from 25.8 people in 1960, due to their impact in leading the development and implementation of new technologies.

In today’s culture, forgetting the source is not something new. When you ask people where their food comes from, most often the response is “from the store.” This problem is escalated by conflicting and constantly changing nutritional advice, including the USDA’s latest version of the food pyramid.

Changes to the food pyramid and food pyramids from around the world were highlighted in the exhibit’s “Open Table.” The latest changes include a de-emphasis on animal foods raised by American farmers and ranchers which was also reflected in the FOOD exhibit.

There are more Americans struggling with choosing healthy foods and we could all benefit from a few more fruits and vegetables to our daily diets, yet the “eat more fresh fruits and veggies” message should not be accompanied by “never-mention-meat.”

Instead of calling the MyPlate section “Meat, Fish and Eggs,” that category is called “Protein Foods.” However meat, fish and eggs provide more than just protein – they provide protein, iron, zinc and vitamin B12 among other essential nutrients. For more on the nutritional value of meat, read the past blog post: Meat, the Facts.

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Is it really necessary to devalue meat and poultry by pretending that they’re just small players in a generic “protein” category?

The proverb “never bite the hand that feeds you” seems to have been forgotten by most, despite the hard and dedicated work of American farmers who provide healthy and nutritious food including meat; poultry; fruits; vegetables; wheat for bread, pasta and cereal; milk for yogurt, ice cream and much more for Americans and millions of others around the world.

So before you dine on your next meal, please take some time and thank a farmer and rancher.

–Kassi Williams is a proud farmer’s daughter growing up on a cow/calf and grain farm in Iowa. She earned a Bachelor of Science from Iowa State University, majoring in both animal science and public relations. She has been involved with agriculture from birth, working in multiple facets of the industry including the USDA and Extension. Kassi relocated to Nebraska in 2010 to work for a marketing communications agency for a multitude of agriculture clients.

Food Security Is Not a Bargaining Chip

food-security1The lyrics from Jim Croce’s 1972 single “You Don’t Mess Around with Jim” came to mind a few weeks ago when listening to the back and forth talks on the federal budget sequester. You may recall the song’s catchy list of things you don’t do: “…tug on Superman’s cape…spit into the wind…or try and pull the mask off the ol’ lone ranger.” It struck me that sequester talks would benefit from a Croce like warning such as: “…you don’t threaten the safety and security of America’s food supply.”

If history has taught us anything as a country, it’s that our strength comes from the ability to feed and nourish our ever growing population. Even with the ability to raise food, natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy, are vivid reminders of just how fragile, yet complex, our food distribution system can be. Despite that reality, food security has become the latest hostage in the showdown between the White House and Congress on the budget sequester.

The sequester would make $1.2 trillion in total budget cuts over the course of the next 10 years with roughly $85 million in cuts for fiscal year 2013; the idea being to slow America’s federal budget deficit that has bloated to $17 trillion due to the federal government spending nearly a trillion dollars a year more than it takes in.

While there’s plenty of blame to go around between Democrats and Republicans alike for the situation, the finger pointing and rhetoric hit a new low when the White House and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) began beating the drum that layoffs of federal meat inspectors could be part of the sequester.

From a historical perspective, meat inspectors have always been considered essential personnel making them exempt from government shutdowns and other federal budgetary issues. This status for inspectors was established for good reason. Without federal meat inspection, packers and processors are not legally able to ship meat products across state lines. A slow down or shutdown in meat inspections would send shockwaves through the meat supply and distribution chains. Processors and packers would be limited in production capability or forced to shut down.  Livestock farmers would literally have no market. American families and consumers would feel the full effects as meat shortages would drive prices higher for chicken, pork and beef or possibly create challenges in meat product availability.

The administration’s suggestions that meat inspectors would be subject to budget reductions can really only be interpreted in two ways. Either the White House has no true understanding of what cuts to federal meat inspectors means for America’s food supply and American consumers, or they are simply playing a game of “chicken” with Congress to try and enhance its position supporting a delay in the sequester.

Regardless, it is a disappointing display of leadership that should get people’s attention. The idea that our own administration would attempt to use food security and food safety as a scare tactic and potential bargaining chip to avoid serious discussion about the federal budget reduction is a disservice not just to farmers and ranchers, but all Americans. The idea is even more disheartening when one considers the fact sequester would trim only three cents out of every federal dollar it currently spends.

Fortunately, as Nebraskans, we have a pair of common sense U.S. Senators that to their credit have been willing to question USDA. Sen. Mike Johanns and Sen. Deb Fischer are part of a small group of U.S. Senators that have asked Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to further clarify intentions related to the federal meat inspection program in light of the sequester.

Most of us recognize there are few things sacred left in this day and age when it comes to politics and advancing a political position. The consequences of failing to provide a viable food supply, however, remain as real today as ever. The administration’s inability to recognize that fact and its willingness to use our nation’s food security as a chip in the high stakes game of deficit reduction isn’t good for America. Nor is it good for the rest of us looking to put food on the dinner plate.

The above article by Steve Nelson, Nebraska Farm Bureau Federation president, originally ran in the Omaha World Herald Midland Voices section on Thurs., March 7, 2013.

The USDA Issued a What for What?

Just before the Christmas holiday, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced a final ruling to establish regulations for tracing livestock moving interstate. But, what does this mean?

Why?

Animal disease traceability is knowing where diseased and at-risk animals are, where they’ve been and when they were there. This is very important to ensure a rapid response when animal disease events take place. An efficient and accurate animal disease traceability system helps speed up response time by reducing the number of animals involved in an investigation and decreases the cost to producers and the government.

The ruling will allow for increased food security providing dependability in terms of supply and quality, among other attributes.  Should there be an animal disease occurrence, the final ruling would allow for efficient trace back of infected animals and the rapid quarantine of potentially exposed animals. This ensures that healthy animals can continue to move freely to processing facilities, providing a dependable and affordable source for consumers and protect producer’s livelihoods. At that point, USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service methods for quality assurance take over and assure further safety and security of the food supply.

When?

The USDA presented an original plan for traceability in August 2011 and opened the original plan up for consumer and producer comment. Those comments closed and a final ruling was made on Dec. 20, 2012. The ruling will take effect at the end of February 2013.

How?

Under the final rule, unless specifically exempted, livestock moved interstate (across state lines) would have to be officially identified and accompanied by an interstate certificate of veterinary inspection or other documentation, such as owner-shipper statements or brand certificates. An additional ruling for beef cattle less than 18 months of age will be coming, but for now they are exempt from the official identification requirement in this rule.

Interstate Certificate of Veterinary Inspection

Interstate Certificate of Veterinary Inspection

For more specific details about the regulation and how it will affect producers, visit www.aphis.usda.gov/traceability.

 

— Kassi Williams is a proud farmer’s daughter growing up on a cow/calf and grain farm in Iowa. She earned a Bachelor of Science from Iowa State University, majoring in both animal science and public relations. She has been involved with agriculture from birth, working in multiple facets of the industry including the USDA and Extension. Kassi relocated to Nebraska in 2010 to work for a marketing communications agency for a multitude of agriculture clients. 

Why were changes made to the school lunch program?

We had another great question from a blog reader:

My kid is coming home from school hungry because he isn’t getting as much for lunch as he used to. Why were changes made to the school lunch program?

With the start of the new school year, there’s concern some kids may be feeling hunger pains due to the first changes to the National School Lunch Program in 15 years.

American Farm Bureau Farm Program Specialist Kelli Ludlum said there are new maximum requirements for the amount of protein and overall calorie content of school lunches. There have always been minimum requirements for calories, protein and other nutrients, but now there are maximums as well and it appears that those maximums, while potentially looking good on paper, really aren’t meeting the needs of particularly junior high and high school students that have a higher caloric requirement, especially for those that are active in after school sports.

The changes are part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which Congress passed two years ago. Kelli says there are positive aspects of the standards, like offering more fresh fruits and vegetables and reducing saturated fat, trans fats and sodium.

The effort was actually well-intentioned, Kelli said. There was a real concern about the growing problem of childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes. So in an effort to solve that problem Congress instructed the U.S. Department of Agriculture to look at childhood obesity and try to address that problem through the school lunch program. The problem is that in trying to solve childhood obesity for some you actually starve some of the more active children, particularly those at the higher age groups.

Nebraska Farm Bureau’s home office staff has heard stories from members, friends and coworkers about having to pack a lunch for their child in addition to the school lunch. These are especially important for young people that are active in after school sports that just aren’t having their caloric needs met for, not only a long afternoon of classes, but possibly a couple of hours of sports practice on top of that, Kelli said.

Kelli said she won’t be surprised if USDA takes another look at the new standards, because many parents are complaining that the school lunches are leaving their kids hungry and how well will a kid do in school if all they’re thinking about is their growling stomach?

Keep asking great questions!

Learn more about ag families in Nebraska by visiting www.nefb.org. And while there, be sure to connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.