Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Climate Change, Health Care, and Agricultural Policy

Assuming Michael Pollan's facts and assumptions are correct in The Omnivore's Dilemma, I am beginning to see a big gaping hole in the President's domestic agenda.  He wants to deal with climate change (environmental issues) and health care, but it seems that signifcant parts of both problems inhere in the government's long standing agricultural policy.

In The Omnivore's Dilemma, Michael Pollan states that our government has for decades been subsidizing a segment of corporate America by incentivizing farmers to produce more corn than the market will bear, keeping the market price of corn below the cost of production.  Several problems arise from this:

  1. Monoculture, which damages rich farm soil through erosion and lack of natural nutrients that come with crop rotation.
  2. Increase need for petroleum because the high yeilds in a monoculture farm environment are only possible when moving from the sun as major energy source for plants to a petroleum based fertilizer. (The sun is still there of course)
  3. Land and water pollution caused by the fertilizer.
  4. Cheap corn goes into hundreds of unhealthy processed foods, leading to greater health problems.
  5. Cheap corn is fed to cattle in vast feed lots,
    1. cheap corn leads to cheap beef, which means we eat more of it
    2. cows literally don't have the stomach for corn leading to health risks for cows
    3. health risks for cows increase because of the disease infested urbanization of cow living
    4. unhealthy cows present all sorts of health risks to human beings.  For example, cows are giving anti-biotics to reduce health risks, which in turn leads to new anti-biotoc strains of bacteria.

I could go on, but you get the picture.  Assuming Pollan is correct, wouldn't it make sense to attempt to tackle agricultural policy before these other items on the domestic agenda.  Government could save money by ending its indirect subsidies to corporate food giants.  This in turn might change the way we farm, returning farming to a more natural cycle, helping the environment and easing our dependence on foreign oil along the way.  With these changes maybe our food will be healthier and we will be healthier.  To the extent that food is more expensive, the government could redirect its farm subsidies into food stamps or other programs to help those who cannot afford the healthier food.  And, to the extent there are health care savings due to healthier eating, the cost savings could be put into health care for the needy.

Since I don't know anything about agricultural policy, health care policy, and environmental policy, I could be completely wrong about all of this.  But, if I'm not totally off base, doesn't this merit a look?  And, hey, its Friday afternoon during the dog days of summer...


Scaperlanda, Mike | Permalink

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