Why We Need a National Food Policy

It's time to begin building a food system that will ensure access to green, fair, nutritious, affordable food for all Americans.

On November 7, 2014, UCS food and environment program director Ricardo Salvador joined prominent food thinkers Mark Bittman, Michael Pollan, and Olivier de Schutter in a Washington Post opinion piece that calls on President Obama to issue an executive order establishing a national policy for food, health and well-being.

Below is a summary of the Washington Post piece.

How we produce and consume food has a bigger impact on Americans’ health and well-being than any other human activity. Yet the United States has no food policy. That must change. A National Food Policy would coordinate government resources to guarantee that:

  • all Americans have access to healthful food;
  • farm policies are designed to support our public health and environmental objectives;
  • our food supply is free of toxic bacteria, chemicals and drugs;
  • production and marketing of our food are done transparently;
  • the food industry pays a fair wage to those it employs;
  • food marketing sets children up for healthful lives by instilling in them a habit of eating real food;
  • animals are treated with compassion and attention to their well-being;
  • the food system’s carbon footprint is reduced, and the amount of carbon sequestered on farmland is increased;
  • the food system is sufficiently resilient to withstand the effects of climate change.

In short, the policy would assure that all would have access to food that is green, fair, nutritious and affordable

The crisis in the food system—which is undermining the health of the people and the environment while contributing to economic inequality—is now widely recognized. More progress has been made in addressing these problems in the United States during the Obama administration than during any other in generations, but much remains to be done. A presidential statement supporting a National Food Policy would go far toward assuring this administration’s work continues in the future and overcomes the obstacles it faces. 

Thus we urge the President to announce an executive order establishing a national policy for food, health and well-being. By officially acknowledging the problem and by setting forth a few simple principles on which most Americans agree, the introduction of such a policy would by itself create powerful momentum for reform. 

There are precedents for such a policy. Already a handful of states are developing food charters, and scores of U.S. cities have established food policy councils, and Mexico, Brazil, and other countries have developed national food policies leading to important reforms. 

The very act of elevating food among the issues the White House addresses would build public support for change.  As soon as the government sets forth a food policy goal it will become easier to pass legislation supporting it and more difficult to pass bills that go against its principles. 

Think of the food system as something that works for us rather than exploits us, something that encourages health rather than undermines it. That is the food system the people of the United States deserve, and President Obama, in his remaining time in office, can begin to build it.

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