Article: Let’s Make Food Issues Real – New York Times

This article is calling for real action in the food movements the world is needing today. Although some progress has happened, the most crucial issues still remain yet to be improved, such as removing the routine use of antibiotics from food production.

I strongly agree that more transparency is needed, on cases such as labeling for GMO, antibiotics, pesticieds etc: whether or not these really negatively influence health, consumers still have the right to know what types of treatments have been done to their food. I think one of the major reasons for the distrust on claims that GMO is not harmful is due to the lack of transparency.

There is some talk about the food movement’s winning. I’m not even sure such a thing as a food movement exists.

Yes, we have seen some encouraging developments: a promised reduction in the use of antibiotics by Tyson Foods and McDonald’s, a marginal wage increase by McDonald’s for a small portion of its worst-paid workers, a reduction of the use of artificial colors by Nestlé, Kraft and others; the elimination of aspartame in some diet drinks by Pepsi (to be replaced by different artificial sweeteners, of course); a more sweeping (and credible)announcement on additives by Panera; and Chipotle’s claim to have all-but-eliminated foods produced using genetic engineering.


Grass-fed, antibiotic, and growth hormone free cattle. CreditDon Ryan/Associated Press

This isn’t a case of perfect being the enemy of good enough, but one of not getting carried away by what amounts to a little greenwashing. We need to change that.

I recently had occasion to review some of the columns I’ve written over the last four-plus years in order to collect them for my new book, “A Bone to Pick.” The first one, from 2011 — “A Food Manifesto for the Future” — is a good yardstick to measure progress over that period. In it, I made a number of suggestions with which I think it’s safe to say most food activists would agree. Among these were:

• end subsidies to processed food

• break up the Department of Agriculture and empower the Food and Drug Administration

• outlaw concentrated animal feeding operations

• encourage and subsidize home cooking; tax the marketing and sale of unhealthful foods

• mandate truth in labeling

I would create a similar list now, and would add “remove the routine use of antibiotics from food production,” “radically improve and expand the school lunch program” and “ensure that there is land for people who want to grow real food on it,” but it wouldn’t have mattered much. I have written about those issues repeatedly, and we’ve seen minimal movement on any of these fronts.

What have we seen? Some increase toward labeling foods produced with genetically engineered seeds, which — if it were to lead to greater transparency — would be a good thing. But this is not a burning issue; better to see labeling that addresses antibiotics, pesticides and treatment of workers and animals. We’ve also seen a strong push, via the 2010 Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, to improve school lunches, food-wise the most vital act of the (Michelle) Obama administration. And, as mentioned before, there have been some promises on the part of a couple of corporations to reduce antibiotic use.

But the real action has been local-level success on increasing the minimum wage. And this is for obvious reasons: One, it’s not strictly a food issue, though the biggest number of low-wage workers in the country is in the food system. Two, real organizers are involved. And three, the food workers and their organizers have formed alliances with traditional unions, which — if only barely — remember how to fight.

The Sierra Club’s “Beyond Coal” campaign gives us a model: a clear goal (close all coal plants by 2030), nearly 200 organizers (and nearly two dozen lawyers), real funding and real results: New coal plant construction has been halted and 188 plants have been closed or scheduled to close since the beginning of the campaign in 2010.

The still-forming food movement must narrow its focus to a few possible-to-win issues. A short list from which to pick might include restricting the use of antibiotics, which is winnable with the right president; eliminating Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations or CAFOs, which are comparable to coal mines and might be winnable with a strong legal strategy and a series of local fights (imagine the excitement if even a single CAFO were shut down); marketing junk to children (around which a number of groups are strategizing, but so far without a strong presence); and fair treatment of workers. (There are other possibilities, of course; I’m not the decider.)

Even before there’s an organization willing to do Sierra Club-like work on one or more of these issues, there is something everyone who cares about food can do, starting right now: Push political candidates running for every single office to take a stand on food issues like these. Eighteen months from now we’re all electing House members, a third of us will choose senators, and there is, as you might have heard, a presidential race.

To my knowledge, and with the exception of the wage fights and Bernie Sanders, no presidential candidate has spoken about any of the above issues. Even Bernie Sanders, by far the most principled and thoughtful of the lot, may not be aware of the importance of these. (Sanders has come out in favor of G.M.O. labeling, however.) Yet he’s a natural ally, and could (and should) be pushed to bring them into any potential debates with Hillary Clinton.

Of course, few of us are going to have much access to Bernie or Hillary. We can, however, reach the people running for Congress from our districts, and it’s time to start asking them questions like these: Where do you stand on getting the routine use of antibiotics out of our food supply? On polluting our land, water and air, on using precious resources to raise tortured animals? On making sure my kids grow up eating decent food? And so on.

I’ll believe there’s a food movement when Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush are forced to talk directly about food issues. I’ll believe we’re effective when I see the routine use of antibiotics outlawed and when that first CAFO closes. I’ll know we’ve started to win when anyone who wants to farm real food has land on which to do it, when there are high-quality school lunches that are free for all, when we’ve started talking about providing that same quality dinner to anyone who needs it. Until then, we have a lot of work to do.


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