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Think Globally, Eat Locally

Think Globally, Eat LocallyTufts' Hugh Joseph says that this year's farm bill presents an ideal opportunity to encourage local food production while promoting good health.

Boston [07.20.07] Farm bills only come before Congress once every five to seven years, but have far-reaching implications for the food industry, ranging from school lunches to food stamps. With the 2007 farm bill currently up for debate, Tufts' Hugh Joseph wrote an op-ed for The Boston Globe urging food consumers to make their voices heard in favor of local food while they can.

"Unless conscientious eaters speak up as food citizens, the 2007 version could again come up short for farmers and local food lovers in Massachusetts," wrote the founder and former director of Tufts' New Entry Sustainable Food Project at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy.

The farm bill is up for debate against a backdrop of decline in the agricultural industry and increased concern about environmental impact, notes Joseph.

"Federal funds can help us sustain the infrastructure necessary to produce, process and transport locally produced food," he wrote. "The less distance food must travel, the less negative impact our food system will have on climate change and the stronger our local food economies will be."

Joseph argues for balance in the farm bill. An emphasis on giving subsidies to corn and soybean producers over fruit and vegetable farmers, he says, has resulted in higher prices for produce and lower prices for fatty and sugary snacks. This imbalance is also partly responsible for the $100 billion in obesity-related medical costs incurred in this country, Joseph contends.

"If our farm bills had also been healthy food bills, we would have distributed government support more equitably to make nutritious foods more accessible and more consistent with U.S. Department of Agriculture dietary guidance, which encourages us to eat more fruits and vegetables," he wrote in the Globe.

While there are USDA programs operating in Massachusetts that both promote local foods and support initiatives to fight hunger and boost nutrition, Joseph says they would require increased funding to have a truly broad impact.

"A three- or four-fold increase would help address the enormous unmet demand in Massachusetts and other states for these benefits at a tiny fraction of what is now spent to support large commodity producers," he wrote.

According to Joseph, the other programs the 2007 farm bill should support are farm stands, urban food production, school gardens and government-run food programs that most benefit those in need.

"These are front-line defenses to prevent hunger and food insecurity while promoting nutritional health, particularly among children, older adults, and families at highest risk," Joseph wrote in the Globe.

Overall, he said, this farm bill represents a key opportunity to advance the causes of both local food supporters and advocates for better nutrition.

"The 2007 farm bill can take us down the road to healthy food and sustainable farms or it can perpetuate the imbalance that has existed for too long," wrote Joseph. "It will be up to local food proponents to help decide the outcome."

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