Do We Really Want to Import Our Food?
By Paul H. Betancourt
Copyright September 2014
Frankly I was shocked, the last year I was Fresno County Farm Bureau President, by how many people suggested that if we couldn’t farm profitably under the increasing rules and regulations that we could just buy our food from overseas. Academics, journalists, regulators and elected officials would just shrug their shoulders when we fought them on rule or regulations and say, “If you can’t succeed, we’ll just import our food.” Really?
We don’t like being over a barrel importing our oil, just how do you think it would be if we had a food embargo? Do you really think foreign suppliers are going to follow your pesticide rules? Think about China with their recent milk and dog food problems. It was so bad they executed some of their dairy officials.
Even more important than that is the idea that Agriculture is the foundation of a healthy economy. If our Ag economy is weak, can the rest of our economy ever really be strong? Almost a hundred and twenty years ago, in his “Cross of Gold Speech”, William Jennings Bryan said,
“Burn down your cities and leave your farms, your cities will spring up again as if by magic; but destroy our farms and the grass will grow in the streets of every city of the country.”
Now fast forward to the 21st Century, have things really change?
About the time I was Fresno Farm Bureau President, an economist from UC Davis came out with a book arguing that our economy is so advanced that we as a country do not need to grow food anymore than a city needs to grow its own food. I think this is where the journalists, elected, regulators and other academics were getting their information. In addition to the question of food safety I will add another argument- how about the carbon footprint?
Today’s enviros are all worked up about the issue of climate change. When it comes to food the solution is to grow food closer to where it is consumed. I am pretty sure when it comes to California the Central Valley is closer to LA and San Francisco than anywhere else they can get their food.
This is not merely an academic argument. Let’s think about this in terms of water policy. Water for our farms is being strangled off by environmental policy. I am all for taking care of the environment. But, we need to look at the whole picture. Californians still have to eat. If we zero out farming here in the Valley- where will food from California come from? What will be the environmental impact of producing and transporting that food?
“destroy our farms and the grass will grow in the streets of every city of the country.”
We often hear, “We ought to do things like the Europeans.” OK, what do the Europeans do about food policy? Their food policy is very generous and encouraging to farmers. Why? Because people in policy making positions were alive after WWII when they economies were wrecked. I talked to one trucker in Italy who ate polenta for breakfast lunch and dinner for three years after the war. Polenta is a nice side dish for a meal, but do you really want to be eating corn meal cakes for breakfast lunch and dinner every day, for three years? A German journalist who visited our farm said as a child they received C.A.R.E. packages for ten years after the war. Their economies were so crippled they couldn’t feed themselves decently for years. So, what did the Europeans learn? Take care of your farmers.
destroy our farms and the grass will grow in the streets of every city of the country.”
We all have a stake in healthy farm policy. Yes, we have to take care of the environment. I try to make the argument in my book, Ten Reasons: Finding Balance on Environmental Issues, if we are going to do this, let’s do it right. Strangling our farms is not a good idea for us, or for the environment.