The sham known as the DARK Act was an ugly reminder about who controls food policy in this country. Virginia farmer and activist Bernadette Barber provides details on who the players are and how they operate.
Using the Democrats’ Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Republicans ensure large grocers a government-subsidized clientele. Food freedom is totally ignored.
Another glaring example of “establishment” politics was seen this past month when the Republican National Committee (RNC) held its convention in Cleveland, Ohio. During the platform discussions, Maine State Senator Eric Brakey introduced an amendment to a plank to allow states to have the power to take junk foods off the table of welfare recipients’ SNAP purchases. The thoughtful amendment considered health implications, states’ rights and wasted tax dollars; leaned to limit corporate control and greed; and looked to take an incremental approach to limiting spending. Discussions ensued with some powerful exchanges, but the day was held by the establishment elite with regards to farm and food at the national level.
Noel Irwin Hentschel (CA) opposed the measure and said, “we are supposed to be the party of individual freedoms, where people eat what they feel they need to eat…it’s not Republican.” If Noel Hentschel saw the Rawesome raid by federal agents that happened in her own town of LA, she would know that people don’t have the freedoms to eat what they feel they need to eat.
Scott Johnson from Georgia opposed the amendment suggesting that when we define things such as junk food, we walk into a myriad of problems of regulations with which retailers must contend. He noted that in Georgia it was attempted and a problem arose with defining Oreos and chocolate-covered Oreos. One is considered an allowable food purchase, and one is considered a candy which is unallowable. The measure was repealed after too much pushback by retailers. It is interesting that Coca-Cola has a huge presence in Georgia and is a major snack food manufacturer.
Stacey Guerin of Maine spoke in support of Brakey’s amendment: “Unhealthy eating is costing our nation billions of dollars in healthcare effects, and I agree if you are buying something with your own money, that is your choice; if you are using federal dollars and state dollars to supplement your food intake, it should be healthy foods.”
Andy Puzder (CA), CEO of Hardee’s, complained, “I hope we don’t become the party of the food police. This is something Bloomberg tried in New York and won’t be very popular with our voters.”
Factually speaking, the establishment politicians have a long history of violently policing food through draconian regulations against farmers and farmers markets and any direct sales from farmer to consumer. Under the pretense of so-called food safety, they have criminalized many fresh food and sales of foods within the community where those foods are produced. One such example is during the Reagan administration when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned the interstate transportation of raw milk for human consumption.
States have an uphill battle to fight on getting Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards accepted at farmers markets. U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and FDA regulations vastly favor huge producers and processors at the expense of small, independent family farms. Through heavy-handed policing and economic choking of small producers, the Republican Party has long-held to the industry’s wishes of destruction of small farms and the cottage industries that branch fromthis to favor a junk food industry that is slowly killing their constituents.
Cynthia Dunbar (VA) agreed with the basic premise, but believed it did not go far enough. She mentioned the constitutionality of the entire issue. Later she clarified, “there is no basis for the federal government to be funding welfare or regulating food consumption. It is not one of the eighteen enumerated powers within the constitution; therefore, it is reserved for the states and people under the Tenth Amendment.”
Senator Brakey wrapped it up with a strong argument stating:
these programs are supposed to be for helping people cover their basic necessities as they get through a tough time in their lives. They are not to enable people to live excessive or unhealthy lifestyles at the expense of the taxpayer. There is a big distinction to be made with someone spending their own money and spending taxpayer money that is designed to give people in poverty nutritional food. It is an abhorrent misuse of taxpayer dollars to let that money go to anything else.
In a follow-up conversation with Mr. Johnson, president of Supermarket Bank, he remarked that fulfillment of food stamp purchases is made through retailers because those retailers have efficient food distribution systems—much different than the original distributions through USDA channels of the past. Retailers must petition the government to be able to accept food stamps and receive a food stamp license. Modern updates have modified that into EBT cards. He also made the point that sodas are an allowable purchase on an EBT card.
Regarding the Republican ideals of private companies and free markets, he said that although it seemed like corporate welfare, it was amenable to him for tax incentives for grocery stores to move into food deserts. I asked him if he knew of any silver bullet solutions that involved food to eliminate multiple issues we face on the national level. He stated there possibly could be but he was unaware of any. I asked him if he ever heard of the concept of food freedom; he replied no.
Who Controls Food?
It never occurred to me that food was discussed on the national level at political conventions. I found that it is by many very power hungry individuals. The Great American Farm Luncheon was hosted by major agribusiness firms and organizations to pitch their platform desires to the convention delegates. CropLife America President and CEO Jay Vroom was the Master of Ceremonies at this event. Many commissioners of agriculture from various states attended. Current and past members of Congress attended as well as the Agriculture Committee chairmen from both the House and Senate and the House Agriculture Appropriations subcommittee chairman.
Those that sponsored the luncheon included the usual suspects of corporate welfare vultures, many of whom are some of the world’s largest privately held corporations:
- Land O’Lakes
- American Farm Bureau Federation
- American Seed Trade Association
- CropLife America
- Dow AgroSciences
- Feld Entertainment
- Growth Energy
- National Corn Growers Association
- National Cotton Council
- National Council of Farmer Cooperatives
- National Milk Producers Federation
- National Pork Producers Council
- United Fresh Produce Association
- U.S. Beet Sugar Association
- The Russell Group
It is interesting to note that the Russell Group is an agricultural lobbying firm in Washington, DC. It touts on its website: “For 30 years the Russell Group has helped clients succeed in Washington. We couple our unparalleled understanding of the legislative, regulatory, and budgetary processes with our extensive relationships with key policymakers and staff to help clients advance their goals. The Russell Group team’s expertise includes the following policy areas:
- Child nutrition
- School meal standards
- WIC food package
- Food safety
- Food Safety Modernization Act
- Meat and poultry inspection
- Food recalls
- Agricultural research
- Biodiesel tax credit
- Renewable fuels standard
- Animal health
- Antibiotic stewardship
- Disease outbreaks
- Rural water infrastructure
- Production agriculture
Their clients include Kraft/Heinz, Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), PepsiCo, International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA), National Potato Council, California Rice, and the United Fresh Produce Association.
With all that packaging, we see how well industrial food sector players maintain their own interests at the national level and curry favor with politicians. The tax dollars garnered by those agribusinesses stretch well into the billions. Those dollars are externalized costs that increase their bottom line. It is truly funny that the Republicans talk a big game about reducing government waste, promoting independence and hard work, but sure collect on the federal dime while working to destroy the very farmers that bring vibrancy to their communities.
I don’t believe that most of the rank and file Republicans at these conventions realize that many simple food products are illegal to purchase anywhere in America. A simple pumpkin pie made from ingredients fresh on her own farm is illegal to sell unless a government agent deems it safe by requiring expensive regulated kitchens that most small family farmers cannot afford. There is no free market when it comes to food in America. So amidst the talk of limiting regulations that stifle economic progress and liberty, the reality is that the corrupt congressmen and the corporate cronies who bought their lunch promote policies for farm and food in this nation that do nothing but harm the small family farmer and food artisan and limit our economy.
How Does It All Play Out?
Judging by Jerry Hagstrom’s coverage of the event, we small-scale, local sustainable farmers must be getting our message out because he wrote:
Vroom established the second theme of the event by telling the attendees that they must ‘stop talking to ourselves’ and ‘dedicate ourselves to communicating’ with the broader society. Throughout the event, there were references to the difficulty of convincing urban consumers and college students of the value of commercial-scale agriculture. David Daniels, director of the Ohio Agriculture Department, an appointee of Ohio Republican Governor John Kasich, noted that he has to communicate with ‘people who live in a loft’ and ‘have never been on a farm’ and have nostalgia for old-style farming.
That is quite a statement at a national level that they have to keep fighting us “old-style” farmers!
While there are hundreds of things to dissect in this obvious attack on the American people by the corporate food system and the parties who purport to represent us, two things stand out to me:
- We collectively can make our presence known at future conventions by educating delegates or becoming delegates and creating a food freedom plank on the platform or
- We can opt out of the system entirely and keep growing urban gardens, keep buying from small independent diversified family farms and keep milking our cows and teaching others to do the same.
Either way we are making a difference.
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