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Eating More Fruits and Vegetables: An $11 Trillion Stimulus?

Leon Kaye | Wednesday August 14th, 2013 | 1 Comment
Union of Concerned Scientists, UCS, farming, agriculture, USDA, eating more fruits and vegetables, crop insurance, farmers markets, organic, small farms, Leon Kaye, farm subsidies,

To date purple carrots are not subsidized

Reading through a recently released Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) report at first reveals the obvious: eating more fruits and vegetables is healthier for you. But the report, The $11 Trillion Dollar Reward, goes further and places a dollar value on the benefits of a healthier society. The UCS study suggests a revamp of our nation’s agriculture policy is in order to get more local fruits and vegetables on the table and less reaching out of a car window to grab another bagged fast food meal.

According to UCS, American’s obsession with fast food and processed food comes at a high cost in wages and of course, health. The price of treating strokes and heart disease reached $94 billion in 2010, and that cost could triple by 2030. Financial savings are possible, too: if Americans just ate an additional serving of fruit or vegetables a day, cost savings would total $5 billion while 30,000 lives would be saved annually. And if citizens followed the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) nutritional guidelines for fruit and vegetable consumption (which of course are not matched by this agency’s policies), $17 billion in costs, and 127,000 lives, would be saved. With all benefits tallied up, UCS suggests total savings in healthier lifestyles, and longer and more productive lives, totals to $11 trillion.

So what does UCS suggest happen in order to encourage the increased consumption of more fresh fruits and vegetables? First, the science based non-profit offers the forehead-slapping recommendation that the production of fruits and vegetables increase across the country. No surprise here: it is common knowledge USDA policies favor the production of commodity crops that are now lucrative on global markets, including corn, soy, cotton, wheat, rice and oats.

What UCS pushes for is the end of antiquated policies that discourage farmers from growing fruits and vegetables. For example, farmers who grow crops such as corn and soy are not eligible for subsidies if they also grow fruits and vegetables on the same land. Removing those restrictions would be a step in the right direction.

Union of Concerned Scientists, UCS, farming, agriculture, USDA, eating more fruits and vegetables, crop insurance, farmers markets, organic, small farms, Leon Kaye, farm subsidies,

Eat more fruits and vegetables, including yellow watermelon

But the real key to growing more fruits and vegetables, according to the UCS report, is not the enactment of more farm subsidies, but the expansion of crop insurance to small farmers who grow the fruits and vegetables that often end up at farmers markets across the nation. Many of these farmers cannot participate in the federal government’s farm insurance program because that scheme is designed for larger farms growing commodities. While the USDA claims such insurance is available, UCS argues the program is limited in availability and is too burdensome for smaller farmers to access anyway.

Another example of absurd government policies is that organic farmers have the decks stacked against them even more: they must pay a five percent premium on top of insurance costs because the USDA “does not have data to assess the actuarial risk of organic farming.” (So what do USDA employees in that massive building near the National Mall in DC do, anyway?)

Considering how American farm policy is designed to benefit companies such as Cargill, ADM and companies that churn out processed food, it is impressive the local food and farmers’ market movements have been able to grow at all. We can debate UCS’ dollar figures, but the real challenges are to make fresh fruits and vegetables available to more citizens, level the playing field for farmers, and have fairer policies that will create more economic opportunities. With all the public ire directed at Congress, it is important to remember the executive branch of the federal government does a good job working against, not for, the public good.

Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye is the editor of GreenGoPost.com and frequently writes about business sustainability strategy. Leon also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business; his work has also appeared on Sustainable Brands, Inhabitat and Earth911. You can follow Leon and ask him questions on Twitter or Instagram (greengopost).

[Image credits of the Vineyard Farmers’ Market in Fresno: Leon Kaye]


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  • Anastasia

    After just watching the documentary, “A Place at the Table,” I would have to agree that change in our farm subsidy policy should be at the top of every American’s list of concerns. The documentary was about hunger in America – surprisingly widespread for one of the world’s most affluent countries, especially among children. Government assistance, in the form of foodstamps and the WIC program, gives so little value that the only foods the poor can afford are the cheapest, in this case, the subsidized crops like corn (soy is mostly grown for animal feed – a fairly small percentage finds its way into people food). So people fill up on empty calories and actually even get fat, while their bodies are starving for proper nutrition. Children are suffering from obesity at the same time as they are hungry and can’t concentrate at school.
    If we change our subsidy structure so that family farms growing vegetables are elegible for subsidies, it will not only allow us to grow more abundance of healthy fresh foods, it will also lower the prices of fresh vegetables and fruit, allowing people in low income brackets to afford healthier food. The costs of shifting our subsidies would be nothing to the American consumer; in fact, there would be a huge savings on health costs for fully preventable nutrition-related diseases. The main “costs” would be bourn by big Agriculture, as large comapnies like Monsanto, Con Ag, etc, would be making less money off the government.