Healthcare's Public Option, Backdoor for More Agricultural Regulation

Drip . . . drip . . . drip: the fall of dropping water wears away the stone.

Drip . . . drip . . . drip: the fall of dropping water wears away the stone. So it goes with shaping public attitude and policy. If you repeat something often enough it must be true (not!), thus politicians are always coached to stay "on message". The constant drumbeat creates foundation for impact. It often appears that some significant precipitous event or incident leads to change. In reality, transformation is more the result of doggedly sustaining a message over time and wearing down your opponent.

That's exactly where agriculture finds itself - under siege from an unrelenting campaign bent on denigrating our mission to feed the world. The battlefront is seemingly mounting across a growing range of issues (more later). And the ranks of insurgency are expanding; some knowledgeable, most emotive - some genuine, many misguided. Worse yet, vilifying food production has become popular sport these days among the main-stream media of late. Dealing with each respective issue is impossible given space limitations here.

What's most important is the over-arching perspective and attitude towards food production among activists. Those enlightened about the ills of agriculture now have traction in agriculture. They're emboldened because of it. That's not surprising. There were some important indicators along the way. For example, Mr. Obama's Time magazine interview (Oct 23, 2008) in which he was quoted as saying:

I was just reading an article in the New York Times by Michael Pollen 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 perspective gained significant direction when Kathleen Merrigan was named as Deputy Ag Secretary, USDA's second-in-command.

Dr. Merrigan most recently served as Director of the Agriculture, Food and Environment program at Tufts University. The program's mission is as follows:

To educate future leaders at the nexus of agriculture, food, and environmental science and policy, and empower them by providing rigorous training, an ethic of social change, and an intellectual community generating visions and models of alternative systems.

The ideology of "social change" and "alternative systems" plays out with endorsements from groups such as Food Democracy Now which included the Deputy Secretary in the "Sustainable Dozen": "A list of progressive, reform-minded candidates . . ." (The ObamaFoodOrama blog, Feb. 23).

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