After passing the Senate in June, the lumbering Farm Bill—a hodgepodge of food and agriculture legislation that comes up for reapproval every five years—entered the gridlocked House of Representatives, where it remains. While the main selling point for the Senate-approved version of the bill is its cost-savings measures, the House has has failed to pass it. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack slammed House Republicans for not working hard enough on such an important bill.
While this Farm Bill limbo generally shouldn’t affect food prices for at least another year, the price of milk could double for consumers beginning January 1, when dairy policy automatically reverts to market prices from 1949.
Photo: Rich Clement/Getty Images
No More Big Sodas in NYC
In September the New York Board of Health passed Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s ban on sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces. On Twitter, Bloomberg hailed the citywide policy as “the single biggest step any gov't has taken to curb obesity,” adding that “It will help save lives.”
President Obama signed the federal Food Safety and Modernization Act into law in February 2011, and its measures, which address the safety of imported and processed foods, as well as produce contamination, were supposed to go into effect in March. No dice. As millions of Americans waited for important safeguards for their food, some cited election-year politics as the culprit for the delays.
In August the Center for Food Safety and the Center for Environmental Health filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Food & Drug Administration for missing important implementation deadlines and failing to enforce the act. Not surprisingly, the FDA pushed back on criticism of its pace, saying implementing the law takes time and shouldn’t be rushed.
Photo: Phil Boorman/Getty Images
No Labels on GMOs in California
At the polls on November 6, California voters rejected a proposal that would require companies to label foods that include genetically modified ingredients. Despite early public support of the measure, a nearly $46 million campaign against the bill—funded in large part by GMO-supporting corporations including Monsanto, DuPont, Dow AgriSciences, Kellogg’s, Kraft Foods, General Mills, Coca Cola, PepsiCo—eventually scared the majority of Californians into voting “no.”
Photo: Stephen Lam/Reuters
School Food Overhaul
An important child nutrition bill, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Child Act of 2010, officially went into effect in July. The bill mainly affects meals served in schools, where many low-income students consume as much as 60 percent of their daily calories. Among other things, the bill increases access to free and reduced-cost school meals for low-income students and updates the nutrition standards for what schools can serve kids, including setting limits on meats and grains.
But soon after it took effect, students began to complain that the reformed lunches were leaving them hungry. Nutritionists and lawmakers followed suit, forcing the USDA to modify its restrictions and allow schools to serve unlimited amounts of meat and grains. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said that the amendment is temporary, which means we could see meat and grain restrictions partially or fully reinstated in the coming year.
Photo: USDAgov/Creative Commons via Flickr
Approaching a Cliff
We began 2012 fearing that tight budgets would lead to brutal cuts in essential anti-hunger programs during these hard economic times. Now, at the end of December, we see just a hint of economic recovery, but still await Congressional action on the “fiscal cliff.” To avoid drastic tax hikes and spending cuts from automatically kicking in on January 1, Republicans say President Obama must be willing to accept cuts to many social programs, a number of which provide low-income Americans with food.
“Food programs will certainly pull their weight in entitlement reform, but it remains an open question whether they will face truly savage cuts,” Parke Wilde, associate professor at the Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, tells TakePart.
Photo: AFP/Getty Images
The Food Year Ahead
While he is hesitant to make specific policy predictions for 2013, Wilde says he is cautiously optimistic that “the tone of U.S. food policy debate will improve dramatically,” and appropriate action will follow suit.
“These developments will help smooth the passage of the Farm Bill, implementation of food safety policy improvements, new child nutrition program standards, and food assistance policy reforms,” he says. “Of course, I think this sort of thing over my champagne glass every New Year’s Eve, and I’ve never been right yet—but you never know.”
It could have been a banner year for food policy, but alas, progress was largely hampered in 2012 by partisan politics and the slowness of government. Here’s a roundup of the highlights and low-lights from the year, with some expert predictions on what to expect in 2013.
Do you think 2013 will bring policies promoting healthy, sustainable food—or will it be another stalemate year like 2012? Share your thoughts in the comments
Steve Holt's story about healthy fast food was anthologized in Best Food Writing 2011 His food and general interest stories regularly appear in Edible Boston, Boston Magazine, The Boston Globe, and other places.Email Steve | @thebostonwriter | TakePart.com