Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Say WHAT?!

Among the legendary White House myths such as Al Gore inventing the internet, now we can add a new one: President Bush creating "Buy Local." Or, at least taking ownership of the concept in his speech today on the economy and food and fuel prices. He also tossed off that he proposed this measure to Congress, and they have not responded yet.

Frankly, given my own state's reps and their advocacy of big subsidies for big ag, I wouldn't hold my breath on a huge buy local push. As for Bush putting forth a proposal for us all to buy local, the farm bill as it is proposed offers little support for non-commodity crops like fruits and vegetables, even with the subsidy revisions.

Regardless of what the president says, buying local isn't something we have to wait for Congress to legislate, it is something we as consumers have a right to choose despite the failed farm bill reforms. It is now, and has been for several years now, a consumer-driven grassroots movement.

I have to admit, though, the headline on that one almost got me. The president with the worst environmental record in history, George W. Bush, promoting local food. It was like an April Fool's day post, just nearly a month late.

Putting the comment back into context, however, you can see how little our president understands the farm bill and issues surrounding buying local. In that same response to the question on ethanol and food prices, Bush advocates increasing production of ethanol as a solution to fuel costs, then he tosses out eating local as a solution to food prices. See below:

"Actually, I have a little different take: I thought it was 85 percent of the world's food prices are caused by weather, increased demand and energy prices -- just the cost of growing product -- and that 15 percent has been caused by ethanol, the arrival of ethanol.

By the way, the high price of gasoline is going to spur more investment in ethanol as an alternative to gasoline. And the truth of the matter is it's in our national interests that our farmers grow energy, as opposed to us purchasing energy from parts of the world that are unstable or may not like us.

In terms of the international situation, we are deeply concerned about food prices here at home and we're deeply concerned about people who don't have food abroad. In other words, scarcity is of concern to us. Last year we were very generous in our food donations, and this year we'll be generous as well. As a matter of fact, we just released about $200 million out of the Emerson Trust as part of a ongoing effort to address scarcity.

One thing I think that would be -- I know would be very creative policy is if we -- is if we would buy food from local farmers as a way to help deal with scarcity, but also as a way to put in place an infrastructure so that nations can be self-sustaining and self-supporting. It's a proposal I put forth that Congress hasn't responded to yet, and I sincerely hope they do."

Um. If more and more farmland gets diverted to commodity crops for ethanol production, how are we going to provide food for the world AND have land left for local farms? If just fifteen percent of the food price issues were caused by using farmland for ethanol, how is using more farmland for ethanol going to be part of the solution? Not to mention the massive input of fossil-fuel based fertilizers that are used to grow that commodity crop conventionally. Or, the fact that current demand for local food may become greater than what can be supplied with only four percent of our nation's farms growing fruits and vegetables.

I'm not going to touch the one on why certain nations may not like us. Or drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

There are more holes in this logic than a block of Swiss cheese. So, it was not April Fool's. Just another fool in April. On the chance that this "new" buying local concept of our president's may sour you on the idea, please just keep buying local, it's your movement. Your choice. Your actions that are real here.

As for President Bush's new "green" image? Nice tie, I mean, nice try.


jen said...

it's so too little, too pathetically late.

Her Grace said...

Cannot. Stop. Laughing.

Seriously. Does he think we're idiots?

Ok, now I'm off to cry.

Andrea said...

My word, that man is a tool. Can't wait for him to get out of that office so that the next person can get in there and start repairing what W broke.

In the meantime, I'm ridiculously excited that this weekend is the first open weekend of my local farmer's market. I'll be there, bright and early with my dollars in hand to buy food that will last longer than the wilted stuff I can get at the grocery store. And to talk to the local farmers and get involved in my local community buy local movement. And not because W (poorly) said so.

Janet said...

Her grace: Honestly, you think he thinks??

Paul said...

Bush's comments accurately reflects the reality in the world's marketplace. If you don't believe it, then you would not be interested in reading the facts of supply and demand reported by the USDA on incresing world demand for all classes of food.

It is true that China and India are raising their living standards and improving their diets. I've read surveys that show their people prefer less rice in their diets and more wheat products, like pasta and baked goods. And, yes, they also prefer to eat more protein in the form of red and white meat. Is that such a bad thing? I suppose you can say "yes" because it raises the cost of living at home.

So, don't blame Bush for talking about something the world beyond our borders has known for more than a few years. This is a new world order in that other people want to have the same standard of living that you and I have enjoyed for all of our lives. Only, just recently have they had the means to acquire it.

Expatriate Chef said...

Oh, India and China have every right to better food. Corn-based ethanol is, however, stupidity. There are better options for biofuel including microbes. what gets me in his speech is the conflicting solutions. You CAN'T raise more crops for biofuel AND for the world, AND for meat, AND have land for local farms to eat local. It simply does not add up to reality. And, that is a big problem.

Paul said...

I respectfully disagree. Back in the sixties, when I was a teen, people were saying we could never feed a world of hungry mouths when the population went over 3-3.5 billion. Forty years later, people once again are saying we can never feed a world with 6 billion people. The reason why they were wrong then and now is technology, including genetically modified crops has increased yields per acre beyond anyone could have imagined. Today, we are on the brink of additional breakthroughs with genetics that will have greater disease resistance and higher yields. In some crops, average yields are projected to more than double within the next quarter century.

As for ethanol, even the corn industry recognizes the short term implications of its capability. At best, it may be able to contribute to replacing only 10-20 percent of our total fuel needs. However, cellulosic based ethanol production is being developed that will replace corn in the ingredient mix and this has much greater potential for sustainability than corn based ethanol production. All scientists working on the projects agree with this statement.

Back to the feeding the world concern, much of the hype surrounding this topic comes from domestic processors, like millers and bakers, who ignored the wheat industry's warnings that we were headed for a short-term shortage with price hikes due to growing demand from third world countries and less than favorable growing weather in the last seven years. Now, they are using the fear factor to try to convince congress and consumers that we have to protect domestic markets and are threatening to raise bread prices to astronomical heights. They are using this fear factor primarily to make more money while blaming farmers for their own shortsightedness when they could have heeded the warnings and purchased supplies well in advance, like many third world millers and bakers did. It's their own fault they did not listen. But, most consumers do not know this and thus believe the lie.

Finally, since world war II, in my life, I can remember only three times that farm prices provided as much buying power as non-farm wages. Huge surpluses were produced as a result of farmer ingenuity and hard work. The role of government subsidies in the beginning was to sustain the farmer through the tough times so the entire industry and infrastructure would not collapse during those years. This has worked well in spite of the many criticisms leveled at it. For that reason, the american consumer spends less than 10 percent of his/her disposable income on food.

By the way, it costs each person in the U.S. less than $ .13 per day to fund the entire USDA farm program, which includes conservation, nurtrition, welfare, school lunches and meals for the elderly. As for the rest of the U.S. government budget, including defense, social security, non-defense discretionary, medicare, entitlements, interest on debt, etc. the consumer spends $23.12 per day. And these numbers are based on 2002 prices and the 2002 budget. Today's numbers widens the gap between the two even more.

In the past 5 years, farmers have worked hard to find markets that would increase demand for their products and make them less dependant on government subsidies, and guess what, they are now criticized for taking government payments AND criticized for using their entrepenurial mindset to produce commodities that people want. Consumers and other special interest groups can't have it both ways. If you want a safe and secure food system that's not dependant on importing questionable, unsafe food from China or elsewhere, you must be willing to keep a prosperous ag economy going at home. Small niche farms near big cities is good, but the largest contributor to America's breadbasket is the family farmer in the midwest and west. Local farmers markets are not a realistic way to feed the the major cities, let alone the nation and the rest of the world that does not have the land or the resources to sustain itself.

Expatriate Chef said...

Paul, thanks for the respectful approach to opposing views. I'm afraid we will have to respectfully agree to disagree on many points. My own research and opinions — with regard to GM crops, the American "Get Big or Get Out" Ag system a la Earl Butz, the problem with the subsidy approach and the resulting cheap calories and imbalance in the US food suppy — are a few areas where we have very different opinions.

Thank you, though, it is always a good idea to keep one's mind open and listen to different views, even if you don't share them. It is always a learning experience.

Paul said...

That's fair enough. I wish you all the best.

BTW, my daughter lived in NYC for over 6 years, graduating from Sarah Lawrence and taught in Queens area. NYC is an amazing place. She liked the farmer's markets and purchased food there often.

Take care.