Health Care Begins with a Grocery Cart
“The less we spend on food, the more we spend on health care,” said Michael Pollan on Oprah.
Today, Americans spend almost 20 cents of every dollar managing disease – diabetes, allergies, asthma, cancer, obesity – and less than 10 cents of every dollar on food. As a matter of fact, according to a new study recently highlighted in the Chicago Tribune, we spend less on food (in terms of disposable income) than any other country in the world.
As a country, sitting down to our national dinner table, we have simply chosen to spend our money on other things.
And while some might argue that the jury is still out on what exactly may be causing the sudden increses in food allergies, obesity, diabetes and cancers, it is accepted knowledge that genetics don’t change this quickly – the environment does. And increasing evidence points to the impact that diet and the additives that we’ve recently put into our food supply are having on the increasing rates of diseases that we are seeing in our country.
In a perfect world, we’d all be growing our own organic vegetable garden, but most of us don’t live in that world. With picky eaters, limited time and limited budgets, we are trying to do the best we can with what we’ve got and are frustrated by the price discrepancy between conventional food and “organic” food at the grocery store.
But have you ever wondered why organic food costs more?
Organic food costs more than its conventional counterparts because as we sit down to our national dinner table, with our national budget, we have not chosen to allocate our national resources to support organic farms. Our taxpayer dollars simply aren’t being used that way.
And as a result, under our current system, it is more profitable for farmers to grow crops laced with chemicals than organic ones because they will receive larger government handouts from the USDA Farm Subsidy program, as well as marketing assistance support and stronger crop insurance programs. In other words, it pays to grow crops with chemicals.
If farmers choose to opt out of the conventional agricultural system and choose to grow crops “organically” (meaning without the use of these synthetic fertilizers and chemicals), it costs them more because not only do they not receive the same level of financial handouts from the government, but they are also charged a fee to prove that their crops are safe and then on top of that, they are then charged a fee to label their crops as “organic”. As a result, organic farmers have a higher cost structure – with added fees and expenditures required to bring their products to market – while our taxpayer dollars are used to subsidize the crops with the chemicals.
Wouldn’t it make more sense to use our taxpayer dollars to subsidize the crops without chemicals given the increasing evidence pointing to the impact that these environmental insults are having on our health? What if our most powerful weapon in the war on health care is a farm subsidy?
Health care reform could begin at the USDA, with an equal allocation of our taxpayer dollars between organic and conventional farming. The USDA could continue health care reform by providing equivalent marketing assistance and crop insurance programs for organic crops and by eliminating the organic certification fee farmers are required to pay in order to label their crops as “USDA Organic”.
If we invite the US Department of Agriculture to be part of health care reform, the USDA could level the economic playing field for the farmers, enabling more farms to grow crops free of chemicals, synthetic and genetically engineered ingredients which would, in turn, increase the supply of these crops in the marketplace – which, as any good economist knows, would drive down costs. Organic food would be more affordable to more of us.
Safe food is a social justice issue that our taxpayer dollars could be used to support. Perhaps it’s time to invite the USDA into the health care debate and address the current system under which our taxpayer dollars are being used to externalize the costs of these chemicals onto the health of our families. With the USDA at the table, health care reform could begin on the farm allowing the most powerful weapon in the health care debate to be a grocery cart.