Food & Water Security


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Healthy, Affordable, Sustainable Food

American food policy is grossly distorted by a flood of donations and lobbying money. Like so many other issues, campaign finance reform rooted in public financing, along with stopping the Congressional-K Street revolving door is essential to allowing a more intelligent food policy that works for all Americans.

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America is awash in cheap food, and cheap food is easy, good politics. There is no doubt that America’s relatively inexpensive bounty is something that, for immediate economic reasons as well as the intrinsic political reasons described above, has made real farm policy reform a third rail.

This cheap food actually comes at an enormous cost. A responsible policy must acknowledge there are significant costs of our food industrial complex to the taxpayer, to the environment, and to public health.

Big agribusiness routinely adds large doses of antibiotics to livestock for non-therapeutic reasons. In recent decades, Americans have experienced repeated outbreaks of foodborne illness linked to new antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. Americans should encourage the Administration to continue the Obama-era efforts to crack down on antibiotics on farms. Further, as plausible, Congress should ban the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in factory farming immediately.

America also needs a more rigorous antitrust policy with regard to agricultural industrial consolidation, the levels of which are staggering. Four companies process and sell over 80 percent of American beef; Monsanto and DuPont sell a majority of U.S. corn seed; Dean Foods controls a severe majority of the milk supply in many states. Congress has deregulated agribusiness relentlessly for decades, and we can no longer afford to do so.

Perhaps most importantly, we need to look at subsidized crops like corn for what they are. The average bushel of corn costs farmers more to grow it than it sells for. In a rational economic system, farmers should grow less corn, which would then raise the price per bushel. We don’t do that. The federal government subsidizes every bushel of corn, and now we plant an area twice the size of New York State across America. Taxpayers are on the hook for $20 billion annually in crop subsidies.

This massive welfare payment benefits an entire industrial complex, from the large processors, the factory farms, and the sugar merchants who rely on cheap corn for highly processed food that makes us fat, conveying a price and access advantage to the foods that are worst for our health and environment, distorting agricultural economic outcomes in a perverse way that benefits the few at the expense of the many—this cannot morally continue.

Our agricultural policies have been grossly irrational at the outset and have had unacceptable secondary costs. In addition to making the most unhealthy processed food artificially less expensive than they should be, promoting the public health crisis of obesity, and adding billions to our health care costs, the status quo is doing terrible damage to our environment and our water.

Corn uses more nitrogen-based fertilizer and more pesticide than any other food crop. Runoff from these chemicals in the midwest makes its way into the groundwater and, from there, into the Mississippi River, which carries it to the Gulf of Mexico where it destroys vast areas of marine life. Those chemicals are the product of fossil fuels, and, therefore ,massive doses of pesticides and fertilizer require tremendous consumption of fossil fuels. A single bushel of corn requires a half gallon of fossil fuel.

Instead of subsidizing big agribusiness’ continued record profits and consolidation, Congress should work to provide incentives for more sustainable, healthy, and responsible food systems. The food industrial complex has been subsidized from taxpayers, polluting our groundwater and tributaries, using massive amounts of fossil fuels, contributing to the obesity epidemic, and threatening the efficacy of the medical miracle that has been antibiotics. These are the sorts of problems a responsible Congress standing up for the public interest would work to solve, and I am relentlessly dedicated to pragmatically solving these problems by engaging all stakeholders to craft a farm policy that works for all Americans.

Water

Water is not simply another commodity. As one of the most fundamental resources to sustain life on earth, water needs to be considered more of a public resource than private property. America’s present water policy faces an enormous challenge due to the fact that current usage models and infrastructure are based upon outdated usage patterns and are in dire need of updating.

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Climate change affects every aspect of water as a resource. Many parts of our country have and will continue to face longer, more extreme droughts, storm frequency and strength, crop yield, and more. Quite simply, our past assumptions no longer hold any validity or predictability because of our changing climate.

As we move forward, we need smarter management of our developed water supplies. Further, our water infrastructure, like much of our energy and transportation infrastructure, needs critical maintenance and upgrades.

While the federal government has a limited role in the intricate, overlapping system that is America’s water supply, Congress can have a greater impact in improving state water systems. One way to do this is to use the Clean Water State Revolving Fund as leverage to tie federal water assistance to state water reform. Congress should encourage better, more efficient management of state water systems, rather than reactive band-aids and bailouts when problems reach critical mass.

Congress must now strengthen the Clean Water Act. One of the most effective environmental pieces of legislation in American history has constantly attacked and faces serious threats today. A multitude of exceptions to the Clean Water Act via its permitting statutes have been carved out by industry interests in recent years. We simply don’t know much of what numerous agriculture, mining, and drilling businesses are doing to our water. This is unacceptable. Toxic spills and drainage kill aquatic life, acutely poison community drinking water, and pose serious health, reproductive, and neurological risks. As a start, we need transparency with regard to such exceptions, and must take all steps to ensure the strength and original intent of the Clean Water Act.

Congress should also work to remove perverse incentives for agribusiness to waste water. As reported by the Texas Tribune during the 2012 West Texas Drought, cotton growers continued to pump water even when it became obvious the crop was a lost cause. Farmers needed  to prove they made every attempt to revive a crop before receiving insurance payouts; the incentive was for water to be wasted so farmers could protect themselves. We need common sense solutions to agricultural incentives as part of a comprehensive agricultural reform to prevent such illogical and wasteful outcomes.