"The idea of changing the world by voting with your [shopping cart] may be beguiling. But if consumers really want to make a difference, it is at the ballot box that they need to vote."
This quote was from "Ethical Food," an interesting article in the Dec. 7, 2006, issue of The Economist. The article argued that buying organic, fair trade and local does little to help the problems that we think we're addressing, and are in fact unrealistic real-world solutions that may be hurting the very people we are trying to help. Instead, it urges consumers to make a difference by becoming more involved in our political system. And there is no better time than now. You see, the Farm Bill of 2002 is set to expire Sept. 30.
Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma (Penguin Press, 2006), describes the Farm Bill this way in the Sept. 11, 2006 issue of The Nation: "Every five years or so the president of the United States signs an obscure piece of legislation that determines what happens on a couple of hundred million acres of private land in America, what sort of food Americans eat (and how much it costs) and, as a result, the health of our population".
It gives us the opportunity to significantly influence the nation's food policy. A good thing, since Congress received an overall grade of D+ and the USDA received a C- from the Sustainable Agriculture Coalition in October 2006. You can see the whole report card at www.msawg.org/farmbill/Report%20Card.pdf.In the 2007 Farm Bill, I think we should ask politicians for everything we know will make a difference. This could include:
- Requiring more fresh, locally pro?duced and sustainably raised food in school lunch programs
- Providing more funding for:
- the National Organic Program to enforce the organic rule and create a transitional organic program
- grants to organizations that conduct organic research
- beginning farmers and ranchers so they have the tools they need to be successful
- Requiring that all genetically engineered crops be tested by an independent organization for safety and environmental impact
- Requiring labeling of all products containing GE materials
- Requiring pesticide manufacturers to list the inert ingredients in their products so we can get a more accurate picture of what is being sprayed on our food supply and how it affects us
- Enacting country-of-origin labeling so we know where our food comes from.
I'm sure you could come up with a bunch of your own ideas. And as retailers, we can play a big role in getting these ideas into the 2007 Farm Bill. Heck, we can even change the name. Pollan suggests we call it the 2007 Food Bill. Not a bad idea. It would certainly get customers' attention, more than legislation with the word farm in the title.
So where do we begin? Familiarize yourself with the existing and proposed Farm Bills. Then contact your local congressional representative and ask him or her to support your ideas. Remember, 285,000 letters and cards helped change what was allowed in the organic rule.
Organize a forum at your store to address these issues, and ask your representative to come and discuss his or her support for your customers' concerns.
Contact your local radio stations to interview folks from the Organic Farming Research Foundation, the Organic Trade Association, the Organic Farmers Action Network, Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and so forth, so we can get the word out to the average consumer.
Let local sustainable agricultural and farming organizations (like the Community Alliance with Family Farmers) set up a table in front of your store to educate customers about the Farm Bill.
Put together a list of topics for your staff so they can have conversations with customers about the Farm Bill and its effects.
We have the power to make the changes we want. We just have to remind our representatives whom they are working for and how important healthy food is to us all.
Mark Mulcahy runs Organic Options, an organic education and produce consulting firm. He can be reached at 707.939.8355 or at [email protected]
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVIII/number 2/p. 32