USDA Secretary Mike Johanns and his senior deputies are attending listening sessions around the country in advance of the 2007 Farm Bill debate in Congress. The Farm Bill reauthorizes programs under USDA jurisdiction, including federal farm programs, rural development programs, food safety oversight, and -- with the largest budget -- food assistance and nutrition programs.
Please attend the listening session closest to you and speak up for the public interest in U.S. food and agricultural policy, including nutrition policy. You may also submit written comments to USDA electronically here. Read our archives to jog your memory of the policy issues at stake. If the cynic in you suspects these inputs are ignored by the powers in Washington, then at least ask yourself why the industry lobbies take them so seriously and speak as much as possible. The USDA website is posting transcripts of the oral comments, but it is somewhat difficult to get to the reading room in Washington to see the written comments. If you send electronic comments to USDA, please save them first and use the comment feature in U.S. Food Policy to share them here.
I notice something funny missing from USDA's request for comments. Here are the five strategic goals in USDA's strategic plan (.pdf):
1: Enhance economic opportunities for agricultural producers,
2: Support increased economic opportunities and improved quality of life in rural America,
3: Enhance protection and safety of the nation's agriculture and food supply,
4: Improve the nation's nutrition and health, and
5: Protect and enhance the nation's natural resource base and environment.
Now, for comparison, here are the topics for the six questions on which USDA requests written comments in advance of the 2007 Farm Bill:
Question 1: The challenges facing new farmers and ranchers as they enter agriculture.
Question 2: The competitiveness of U.S. agriculture in global and domestic markets.
Question 3: The appropriateness and effectiveness of the distribution of farm program benefits.
Question 4: The achievement of conservation and environmental goals.
Question 5: The enhancement of rural economic growth.
Question 6: The opportunities to expand agricultural products, markets, and research.
Which strategic goals get double-counted in the six questions? Which strategic goals are missing? Right. But feel free to share your views on how the Farm Bill can influence progress on USDA's strategic goals for food safety and nutrition, even if USDA officials seem to have forgotten to ask about them. I hope USDA will add additional questions on these topics to the department's request for input.