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How a National Food Policy Could Save Millions of American Lives

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Health Issues page, Appetite For a Change page and our Environment and Climate Resource Center page.

(Martin Tognola for The Washington Post)

How we produce and consume food has a bigger impact on Americans' well-being than any other human activity. The food industry is the largest sector of our economy; food touches everything from our health to the environment, climate change, economic inequality and the federal budget. Yet we have no food policy - no plan or agreed-upon principles - for managing American agriculture or the food system as a whole.

That must change.

The food system and the diet it's created have caused incalculable damage to the health of our people and our land, water and air. If a foreign power were to do such harm, we'd regard it as a threat to national security, if not an act of war, and the government would formulate a comprehensive plan and marshal resources to combat it. (The administration even named an Ebola czar to respond to a disease that threatens few Americans.) So when hundreds of thousands of annual deaths are preventable - as the deaths from the chronic diseases linked to the modern American way of eating surely are - preventing those needless deaths is a national priority.  

A national food policy would do that, by investing 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.

Only those with a vested interest in the status quo would argue against creating public policies with these goals. Now weigh them against the reality that our current policies and public investments have given us:

Because of unhealthy diets, 100 years of progress in improving public health and extending lifespan has been reversed. Today's children are expected to live shorter lives than their parents. In large part, this is because a third of these children will develop Type 2 diabetes, formerly rare in children and a preventable disease that reduces life expectancy by several years. At the same time, our fossil-fuel-dependent food and agriculture system is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than any other sector of the economy but energy. And the exploitative labor practices of the farming and fast-food industries are responsible for much of the rise in income inequality in America.  
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