Jolley: When Food Mattered

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An issue that has been strangely missing from the Presidential debates and the mainstream/lamestream/upstream/downstream news media is food. We’ve heard little about the farm bill and what happened to FSMA?  Protecting agriculture and delivering safe food safely to consumers lost out to Obamacare, paying down the national debt and hollow sounding rhetoric about creating jobs.

All those issues are important, of course, and deserve good, rational debate which is another thing that’s missing in so many instances today.  “Rational,” always a rarity in political discourse, was swept away early and like most of the flotsam swept to sea by Hurricane Sandy, probably will never be seen again.  As we get closer to November 6, the tide of incredibly unbelievable claims and counter claims about every issue by both parties will insure “rational’ will sink deeper than the Titanic.

The farm bill as a point of discussion seems to have become the new hear-see-speak no evil monkey mantra.  Better to sit that one aside until well after the election because any position taken by any politician – right, left or both those guys left stranded in the middle – would be like raising a lightning rod during the peak of Sandy’s rage.  Even if you avoided a direct strike of about a million volts, the howling wind would blow you away.

Does anyone even remember the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA)? It was called “the most sweeping reform of our food safety laws in more than 70 years” when it was signed into law by President Obama on January 4, 2011. In just over 2 months, it will be a two year old still-borne act of futility.

Such is life during our now never-ending political season.  Here is a safe prediction: the Campaign for the 2016 presidency will begin November 7, 2012.  Some say Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ) has already fired the first shot at a target that’s simply out of sight right now. 

And here is a suggestion that either Romney or Obama should heed. If Romney wins, he should kick that FSMA bill loose on his first day in office, along with about a thousand other things he’s promised to do on ‘day one.’  If Obama repeats, the action date for FSMA should be November 7, 2012.  Blow the dust off the bill and let’s enter the modern era of food safety and let’s quit claiming we have the safest and most abundant food supply in the world until the deed is done.

Now about that farm bill?  With Social Security no longer enjoying its untouchable status as the third rail of politics, the farm bill has earned that hallowed status but with a different twist.  A few years ago, no one wanted to tear down social security; today, no one wants to touch the farm bill long enough to craft a new one. 

Here is the reason: Beginning in 1973, farm bills included commodity programs, trade, rural development, farm credit, conservation, agricultural research, food and nutrition programs, and marketing.  Those things have made the bill highly controversial. Its impact on international trade, environmental conservation, food safety, the well-being of our fragile rural communities and feeding the poor are big money items that are the subject of intense debate within the U.S. and internationally.  As highly charged as this campaign has been, I would be shocked if any politician of any stripe would be anxious to come near this little package of C-4.

I know we’re all teetering on the brink of that financial cliff that Washington frequently ‘points to with alarm’ while sailing onwards, propelled by the hot air of its own rhetoric and that’s two problems that needs to be addressed ASAP.  We have to turn the ship before we crash into the shoals and we have to end the huffing and puffing of politicos that lead nowhere.  So far, much of what little has been said about the farm bill and FSMA is “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

November 7 is the date that the sound and fury should go away and action should take place.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Chuck Jolley, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.


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Joe Itle    
Martinsburg, Pa.  |  November, 08, 2012 at 05:10 AM

Agriculture is taken for granted in the United States. It is on automatic pilot. The grocery store is the consumer's interaction with present day agriculture. As long as food is on the shelves at a reasonable cost most people could care less. The SNAP program in the Farm Bill cushions the immediate urgency that agriculture should have got in the election. A day of reckoning will come sooner than later.


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