As U.S. Congress considers the latest federal Farm Bill, public health advocates are urging legislators to make subsidies for fruits and vegetables a high priority to improve nutrition and combat rising obesity and diabetes rates, reports the Contra Coast Times. The $90-billion Farm Bill shapes the nation’s nutritional and agricultural policies, including which foods are included in school lunches, how meat is produced and regulated and which crops receive government subsidies. The policies affect the availability and cost of foods in U.S. grocery stores, ultimately guiding the nation’s food choices.
The Times reports the House version of the Farm Bill allocates 2 percent of the total budget to fruit and vegetable crops over the next five years, noting that the measure historically allocates 35 percent to commodity crops such as wheat, rice, cotton and corn and 65 percent to national nutrition programs. Critics of the bill contend that, by prioritizing crops used for refined and processed foods, the measure would fuel Americans’ high-calorie, low-nutrition diets, contributing to rising obesity and diabetes rates.
Jack King, national affairs and research manager of the California Farm Bureau Federation, says the state’s fruit and vegetable farmers are asking lawmakers for increased access to markets such as the school lunch program and for help with conservation programs that protect wetlands. In an effort to shift the nation’s agricultural spending priorities, Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D-Calif.) has introduced a bill that would direct funding toward nutrition, research, conservation and fruit and vegetable crops. The Times reports the measure has already attracted the support of more than 120 U.S. representatives but that the Agriculture Committee has yet to adopt the bill’s provisions (Fischer, Contra Costa Times, 7/16/07).