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Gather 'Round the Table - Last Week's Food Policy Extravaganza

By Anthony Todd in Food on Dec 6, 2010 5:20PM

S510FoodBill.jpg Last week, the attention of many political junkies was fully occupied - in Illinois, by the passage of the law allowing same-sex civil unions and at the federal level, by the debate over the extension of the Bush-era tax cuts. At the same time, two major pieces of food-related legislation made it through congress that some may have missed. The Child Nutrition Bill and the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act both passed, with the former just awaiting a presidential signature and the latter needing house approval and reconciliation. Both bills contain provisions that the slow food and anti-poverty activist communities have been fighting for, but some analysts have argued that the bills have serious problems. Food lovers care about politics too; belly up to our breakfast table and discuss.

The Child Nutrition Bill, a major priority on Michelle Obama's agenda, expands the federal school lunch program while also changing the standards for acceptable foods. For any of us who remember the gag-inducing meals served by our public schools, this is a welcome change - as it is for many nutritionists. In a recent survey of Cook County, 45% of children missed had missed a meal in the previous 24 hours, and only 7.8% had met the reccomended daily standards for fruits and vegetables. This bill will work to change that, putting $4.5 billion towards school lunches over the next 10 years. The bill was attacked from both sides of the aisle. Liberal Democrats were angry that the bill was paid for by cutting the programs that provide food stamps (President Obama has announced he will try to minimize the cuts during the next congress) while Republican representative Paul Broun of Georgia argued that "The federal government has no business setting nutritional standards and telling families what they should and should not eat." Who is right? Does the bill go too far or not far enough?

The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, which has not yet passed the full congress, would, among other things, give the FDA the power to recall tainted foods. Currently, food recalls are voluntary, and some recent delays by producers have led to concerns that the system should be more strictly regulated. Once again, many GOP senators opposed extension of federal regulations on food, while some Democrats argued that the bill would impose an undue burden on small organic farmers, who would have to comply with all the new regulations.

Should food be regulated at the federal level? Should the FDA and the USDA have the power to set nutritional standards for children, or to recall tainted foods? This fight will be continuing in the next session of congress, as congress attempts to cut the budget and FDA reform continues to be a controversial issue.

Survey Data from Greater Chicago Food Depository.