Some food industry observers and consumer groups are urging Obama to make fundamental changes in U.S. food policy, in areas including food safety, farm subsidies and trade agreements. Obama is being asked in some quarters to change the division of responsibility between the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for safety, consumer outreach and other functions.
Several groups are asking Obama, broadly speaking, to reverse U.S. agricultural policy that, they claim, unduly benefits large-scale corporate farms. A consortium of consumer groups, including the Center for Science in the Public Interest and the Consumer Federation of America, issued a statement asking Obama to appoint an agriculture secretary who will promote healthier diets, pay more attention to pollution and soil conversation issues, and be more aggressive in ensuring the safety of the U.S food supply. On Wednesday, news reports stated that Obama would nominate former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack as agriculture secretary.
“Unfortunately, USDA has lost its way,” Carol Tucker-Foreman, a spokesperson for the Consumer Federation of America, said in the statement. “It is now dominated by a collection of special interests, far removed from the people it is supposed to serve.”
The consortium also asked Obama to consolidate the nation’s food-safety functions under a single executive of Health and Human Services, the cabinet department that oversees the FDA. However, it urged that the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), the government agency responsible for meat and poultry inspection, remain part of USDA. In this, the groups are at odds with the Institute of Medicine, which is recommending that FSIS become part of the FDA.
Obama also received a letter, signed by 84 individuals who participate in or comment on the food industry, offering advice for future farm policy.
“The current system unnaturally favors economies of scale, consolidation and market concentration and the allocation of massive subsidies for commodities, all of which benefit the interests of corporate agribusiness over the livelihoods of farm families,” the letter says. Signatories include journalist and documentary filmmaker Eric Schlosser, author Michael Pollan and author and professor Marion Nestle.
Organizations representing grain farmers are advising Obama to lift restrictions on trading with Cuba. Rebecca Bratter, director of policy at U.S. Wheat Associates, told Food Navigator USA that getting restrictions lifted will be a priority in 2009. The U.S. currently has about a 25% to 30% share of the Cuban agricultural import market; in other Caribbean nations, the U.S. share of the wheat market is around 80%.