Make sure to check out Grist’s long take on this NYT article on the Obama Administration’s botched attempt to reform farm subsidies. Basically, the issue is this: the parts of Congress that oversee food and farm policy are completely beholden to large farm producers (aka Big Agribusiness). Big Ag gets rich off the current system and fights any reform. Obama didn’t make a big deal about overhauling farm policy — he simply slipped a couple key farm subsidy reforms into the budget bill from earlier this month. Naturally, they were spiked by Congress, which, though craven on a number of issues, is particularly craven on this issue. There was no reason to expect otherwise.
(For all the reasons why farm policy in this country sucks, see here and here.)
I know the Obama White House doesn’t have the bandwidth for this right now, but the only thing that is going to really change America’s food policy — so that it benefits small farmers, eaters, and the environment, instead of big agricultural producers — is an organized campaign with grassroots support behind it. It will take commitment, money, and energy on a scale that is close to what Obama and his allies are soon going to put into universal health care and comprehensive climate change legislation. This is unlikely for a number of reasons, not least that the public is largely unaware of the problems with food and farm policy. But it’s hard to see how anything short of that is going to be effective. Does Obama have the political courage and the political capital to make that happen? Doubtful. Would any president?
One last note — if you haven’t already, check out Grist’s hot new site.