Thursday, September 10, 2009

Big Food vs. Big Business

In an op-ed piece in the NY Times, Michael Pollen raises some important issues. He writes, in part:

[S]o far, food system reform has not figured in the national conversation about health care reform. And so the government is poised to go on encouraging America’s fast-food diet with its farm policies even as it takes on added responsibilities for covering the medical costs of that diet. To put it more bluntly, the government is putting itself in the uncomfortable position of subsidizing both the costs of treating Type 2 diabetes and the consumption of high-fructose corn syrup.

Why the disconnect? Probably because reforming the food system is politically even more difficult than reforming the health care system. At least in the health care battle, the administration can count some powerful corporate interests on its side — like the large segment of the Fortune 500 that has concluded the current system is unsustainable.

That is hardly the case when it comes to challenging agribusiness. Cheap food is going to be popular as long as the social and environmental costs of that food are charged to the future. There’s lots of money to be made selling fast food and then treating the diseases that fast food causes. One of the leading products of the American food industry has become patients for the American health care industry.

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When health insurers can no longer evade much of the cost of treating the collateral damage of the American diet, the movement to reform the food system — everything from farm policy to food marketing and school lunches — will acquire a powerful and wealthy ally, something it hasn’t really ever had before.

Ann Althouse, whom I like, does not seem to agree. How about at least reducing the sugar subsidies? Reducing government subsidies is a way of reducing governments intervention in the market place and, while we are at it, reducing government's cost.

To the extent Michael Pollen is looking for even greater government intervention, I'm not agreeing either. "Food system reform" ought to take the form of reforming government and the way it plays favorites.

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