Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Unrealistic Expectations--Pollan

A delayed reaction to Professor Pollan, who opined at Grist:
The challenge is to align the goals of federal agricultural policy with the goals of public health, energy, and environmental policy (for the first time), and no one cabinet department has an interest in making those connections. The USDA is largely a captive of the farm lobby and can't be counted on to protect the public health when formulating farm policy; responsibility for food safety is, absurdly and fatally, divided between different agencies (with USDA charged with protecting meat; the FDA fruits and vegetables); jurisdiction over the environmental regulation of agriculture is similarly divided among the USDA, EPA and FDA. This balkanized approach suits the food industry, naturally, but it jeopardizes food security while making real reform impossible. Only when we have in place a White House adviser with the power to coordinate policies across the various relevant agencies and Cabinet departments will the government truly begin to represent the interests of America's eaters in its policies.
My opinion: For the first three sentences, Pollan is operating in the real world, although I'd quibble with some of his assertions. (For example, the "farm lobby" is splintered into many pieces, each trying to capture its own agency, but yes, it mostly represents the interests of producers, not of consumers.) The last sentence is where he gets unreal. USDA and FDA operate within their legislative authorities, as pushed by the various interest groups--i.e., the organic people push their legislation, etc. Because there's no legislative basis for his adviser and no support for establishing one there's no prospect this will work. The best an adviser could do is coordinate legislative and budget proposals, which is already the job of OMB.

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