Farm policies should support growing more fruits and vegetables, says study

(Shoppers buy vegetables at a local Farmers Market in Annandale, Virginia, August 8, 2013. Photo: AFP Photo/Paul J. Richards/Getty Images )

(Shoppers buy vegetables at a local Farmers Market in Annandale, Virginia, August 8, 2013. Photo: AFP Photo/Paul J. Richards/Getty Images )

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) recently released a report stating that eating right not only makes sense for our health but for our pockets. It found that if Americans ate the full two cups of fruit and 2.5 cups of vegetables recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), we could prevent 127,261 such deaths each year from cardiovascular diseases and save $17 billion in medical costs. The economic value of the lives saved from cardiovascular diseases is $11 trillion.

Dr. Ricardo Salvador, the senior scientist and director of the Food & Environment Program at UCS says although this news seems like great news, there is a huge problem that needs to be addressed first.

“We need to invest in crops that the USDA guidelines tell us we should eat more of — fruits and vegetables,” says Dr. Salvador.


Currently, he says the USDA and current farm policies offer few incentives to grow fruits and vegetables – discouraging the production of the very foods federal dietary guidelines recommend. Instead, these policies subsidize “commodity crops” such as corn and soybeans, which are used as feed for livestock and for processed food ingredients — some of it referred to as “junk food.”

“We pay once to a program that makes us sick, and then pay again to cure our diseases,” says Dr. Salvador, explaining these policies require taxpayers to pay for subsidizing commodity crops that become ingredients in unhealthy foods and again through tax dollars that fund Medicare and Medicaid to treat these costly diseases.

He says that these subsidies were meant in good will — to guarantee stable market prices for farmers — but since they these policies were put into place in the 1930’s, they need to be updated.

Although the USDA did not respond for a comment, Dr. Salvador says they do have a lot of programs in place we can benefit from, like “Know Your Farmer Know Your Food” and “My Plate,” which encourage Americans to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables.

“We’re just advocating for the USDA to be more consistent with their own recommendations,” says Dr. Salvador, urging the public to write to Congress to let them know taxpayers want greater access to a healthier food supply and to patronize local farmers markets. “An individual can make a difference, but policy will make the greatest impact.”


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