Wednesday, 23 January 2013

TuftsNow: Counsel for the second term

Timed to coincide with the inauguration, Tufts University's online news and features site TuftsNow this week invited six faculty members to offer comments in advance of the second Obama administration.
    Harris Berman (dean of the School of Medicine) addressed health care. James Glaser (dean of academic affairs in Arts and Sciences) focused broadly on legislative opportunities. Michael Klein (Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy) tackled economics. Sociologist Helen Marrow discussed immigration reform. Chris Swan (associate dean in the School of Engineering) emphasized infrastructure. And I commented on food policy. 
    Parke Wilde, associate professor, Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy; author of the forthcoming book  Food Policy in the United States: An Introduction (Routledge/Earthscan).

    As a nation, we face important challenges related to food and agriculture. We hope for environmentally sustainable farming and meat production, we wish for less hunger and poverty, and we want better protection from chronic diseases and unsafe food. I know that these things are beyond the president’s power to accomplish alone. For example, I know it was mainly our broken Congress, and not the administration, that dropped the ball and left the Farm Bill uncompleted in 2012. Looking ahead, here are some priorities:

    Improve agricultural policy. Traditionally, U.S. policymakers have worried that food prices are too low, and farmers are less prosperous than non-farm households on average. Now environmental constraints and a growing world population have increased prices and raised concerns about food scarcity. This scarcity is mostly a challenge, but it does also present an opportunity to reform U.S. agricultural policy. Support reforms to traditional crop subsidies, limit payments to high-income farmers, and resist the temptation to use subsidized crop insurance and corn-based biofuels incentives as a back door to maintaining outdated subsidies.

    Improve the healthfulness of food retail and marketing. Continue to support the First Lady’s Let’s Move campaign, including promoting local retail access to healthy foods using moderate budgetary support, taking some care to avoid unnecessary supermarket subsidies. If some health-promotion measures are too bold for legislators to support today, such as soda taxes or marginal changes to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, then conduct pilot programs with strong evaluation designs to collect the information for sensible future policy decisions.

    Protect food safety and the environment. Vigorously implement the new Food Safety Modernization Act. Raise awareness of the role of the food system in water scarcity, soil loss and climate change. Americans are a decent people. We might be willing to get along with less meat, less packaging, less energy intensity and less waste if we have the right price signals and a clear vision of how to do so.

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