Obesity epidemic no fault of farmers

THE FOLLOWING EDITORIAL BY SDCUC PRESIDENT DAVID FREMARK WAS FEATURED IN THE ARGUS LEADER, SATURDAY, MAY 22, 2010:

Have you ever been hungry? I'm not talking about that hunger pang that happens between breakfast and lunch. I mean truly hungry, not able to either afford to eat or having food available for days on end. That's an emptiness few of us in this country have ever known. Yet that's the cavalier attitude that Dr. Kevin Weiland projects in his recent editorial, "Federal Farm subsidies fattening America" and misrepresents our nation's food and food producers.

Weiland's comments about hammering out food policy that preserves the land while encouraging family famers to produce affordable, nutrient-rich foods, reveals how little he truly understands about farming and the current farm bill; because that's exactly what farmers are doing right now on the family farms throughout this nation which represent 98 percent of the farming operations today. The fact of the matter is, farmers are increasing our productivity of safe, nutritious raw products while improving our environment year after year.

Americans spend just 9.8 percent of their disposable income on food, less than any other nation in the world. To say most wage earning consumers can't afford groceries is baloney. Instead, they have more money to spend on a ‘lifestyle' – like going to the movies, buying TVs, cell phones, iPods and consuming $4 a cup mocha latte espresso designer coffees. Americans, unlike citizens in other countries, can afford the protein, but they pick the pie.

The American farmer feeds about 144 people worldwide. The scale of world consumption and demand for food is just too great to be supplied by a local system. While the wealthy can afford food from such a system, the rest of the world would essentially starve.

What exactly would Weiland wish to legislate in an idealistic "food bill" … consumers' food choices? Last I checked, this was still America and we still had freedom of choice, even if that means making unwise choices about what we eat or drink.

Weiland implies that government-subsidized grain leads to obesity and diabetes. That's a completely ridiculous, enabling concept. At what point do we as consumers take responsibility for the choices we make about the food we eat? People are overweight because as a society we eat too much and exercise too little. And then Weiland wants to pin the blame on the providers of our food source for being affordable? 

It is offensive to imply that agriculture, the state's largest economic industry, is somehow making people fat. Taking away farm programs will not affect how many Twinkies consumers wash down with a soda pop. There is no causal connection between farm programs and obesity.

I for one would welcome Weiland's suggestion for the health care industry's scientific input in food policy, which has long advocated for a balanced diet including lean choices of protein such as pork, beef and chicken, all of which can compete with the fast food price tag. The fact of the matter is, farmers see very little of the consumer food dollar, just 19 cents of every dollar spent.

Don't take food for granted because it is plentiful. We need a modern food supply for a modern world which includes both fresh and processed healthy foods at a price that people can afford and in a form that's appealing, convenient, and safe. That's what today's farmers are providing and will continue to provide in the future.

Sincerely,

David Fremark 
St. Lawrence, SD

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