Late last month, a sustainability newsletter for Department of Agriculture employees recommended reducing one’s carbon footprint by adopting Meatless Mondays. Almost immediately, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association called on the USDA to withdraw the endorsement of Meatless Mondays, and the USDA complied within a few days. We find out why some say this dustup provides an interesting lens for looking into the future of food policy in the United States.

Guests

  • Philip Brasher Editor of CQ’s Executive Briefing on Agriculture and Food
  • Robert Martin Senior Advisor for Center for a Livable Future, Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health

Transcript

  • 13:06:39

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world.

  • 13:07:00

    MR. KOJO NNAMDILater in the broadcast, it is your turn. You can start calling as soon as we finish having our first discussion. Whether you want to discuss what's going on with Pepco, demanding rate hikes, traffic in Rockville or anything else on your mind. But first, it's likely no one at the USDA saw this controversy coming. It happened last month. And all eyes were on the Farm Bill fight on Capitol Hill on the drought devastating much of the country. An internal newsletter, aimed at Department of Agriculture employees touted the agency's multiple successes in creating a more sustainable work place and greening agency practices.

  • 13:07:42

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIAmong the suggestions mentioned in the newsletter, that employees consider adopting Meatless Monday by eating a bit less meat each week. The newsletter said you could reduce your carbon footprint and improve your health. Well, those are fighting words in some parts of the country. And the National Cattleman's Beef Association quickly accused the USDA of being hostile to the nation's farmers and ranchers. The USDA, just as quickly, retreated and withdrew the recommendation, but the moment highlights a difficult reality for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, how on the one hand to improve the eating and living habits of a nation and on the other hand to deal with the agriculture industry and the ranchers and the farmers who make up a part of that industry.

  • 13:08:36

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIJoining us in studio to discuss this is Philip Brasher. He is editor of Congressional Quarterly's Executive Briefing on Agriculture and Food. He's covered national food and agriculture policy for more than 30 years, working with The Des Moines Register, the Associated Press and Gannett, just to name a few. Phil Brasher, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:08:54

    MR. PHILIP BRASHERThank you.

  • 13:08:54

    NNAMDIAlso with us in studio is Robert Martin. Bob Martin is a senior advisor for the Center for a Livable Future at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University. Bob Martin, good to see you again.

  • 13:09:07

    MR. ROBERT MARTINThank you, Kojo. It's good to be here.

  • 13:09:09

    NNAMDIYou, too, can join this conversation at 800-433-8850. Do you think USDA's multiple missions are incompatible? How would you advise balancing its obligations to farmers, ranchers and the nutritional needs of the American public? 800-433-8850. Phil, as I mentioned, you've been covering agricultural policy for decades. I'm wondering what you thought when this Meatless Monday controversy arose. Did you anticipate this problem? Did you expect the USDA to fold as quickly as it did?

  • 13:09:44

    BRASHERNo. I would say I didn't see it coming. And I think had the Cattlemen's Beef Association not brought this up no one would have ever noticed it. Certainly not in the general public, but this is an election year. And that's important to remember. And rural areas, especially rural areas in the Midwest and Midwestern swing states are important to this president's reelection.

  • 13:10:13

    NNAMDIThe Secretary of Agriculture's wife is running in Iowa. That's my understanding.

  • 13:10:17

    BRASHERThat's correct. I would assume the agriculture secretary would probably say that had nothing to do with his response, but I'm sure there's probably some sensitivity around the household.

  • 13:10:30

    NNAMDII think politics had a great deal to do with this. Bob, for those who are not familiar with the basics about Meatless Monday, why would not eating meat one day a week reduce one's carbon footprint and improve one's health?

  • 13:10:42

    MARTINWell, studies have shown that several chronic diseases are directly related to the amount of meat consumption individuals consume. And, you know, things like obesity, cancer, type II diabetes are linked to our meat consumption. And by reducing the amount of meat you eat you reduce your carbon footprint because it takes less fossil fuel to produce protein-rich grains and nuts and beans versus industrial meat animal production. And it takes less water, as well. It takes about 2,000 gallons of water to produce one pound of ground beef. It takes about seven pounds of grain to produce one pound of feedlot beef.

  • 13:11:37

    MARTINSo if you reduce the amount of meat you eat you reduce the amount of energy and water used to feed yourself.

  • 13:11:45

    NNAMDIWhat do you think about that? Call us, 800-433-8850. Or send email to kojo@wamu.org. You can send us a tweet @kojoshow or simply go to our website, kojoshow.org. Ask a question or make a comment there. You say Meatless Monday conforms to the nutritional recommendations issued by the USDA, Bob. How so?

  • 13:12:07

    MARTINWell, the USDA has recommended that Americans consume less calories from saturated fat. And the place we get saturated fat primarily is red meat. So it not only conforms to the USDA dietary guidelines, but it also conforms to the Healthy People 2020 project that the surgeon general has undertaken. And that's, you know, it's kind of bizarre that it came up the way it did. And I agree with Philip, weird things happen in an election year. One of the people that most aggressively attacked the secretary is his wife's opponent in Iowa, Representative Steve…

  • 13:12:51

    NNAMDIThat's my understanding.

  • 13:12:51

    MARTINYeah, Representative Steve King. So, you know, the USDA has said, you know, you need to get a more balanced source of protein in your diet, seafood, lean meat, poultry, eggs, beans, peas and soy products all are good sources of protein. So it was really an unusual attack, I think. I guess the Cattlemen's Association think they're they only farmers in the country, only ranchers in the country because what Meatless Monday says is, you know, consume these other products. And they're all produced by farmers, as well. So it was a weird scenario.

  • 13:13:27

    NNAMDIWell, we did invite the National Cattlemen's Beef Association to participate in this broadcast. They declined to do that, but left a message saying essentially that their goal is to have the USDA withdraw its endorsement of Meatless Monday. And that they are happy with that response. They don't have anything to add, other than what's been already said in their press releases. But here is Perry, in Brunswick, Md. Perry, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:13:54

    PERRY CALLER)Thank you, Kojo. I just had a quick comment. I grew up on a farm and I had this visual picture of a sow feeding its piglets seven days a week. And this is a little bit like the sow pushing the piglets away one day of the week and they scream like the babies they are. As the gentleman just said, the USDA is responsible for promoting all this agriculture, not just meat. But the meat industry has traditionally screamed like squealing piglets every time the least little thing comes out that says consume less meat. That's my comment.

  • 13:14:34

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. Phil Brasher?

  • 13:14:35

    BRASHERYeah, Kojo, I think it's also important to remember a couple of other things to help with the context here. Beef and pork consumption in particular have been falling off, domestically, over the last decade. A lot of that has to do with price, but some of it has to do with people eating less beef and pork. And I think the industry is particularly concerned about the younger generation. They've been able to make up for a lot of that lower consumption through exports, particularly the pork industry. But they're hurting on the one hand from this fall in consumption. You having higher priced beef and pork, which is driving people to eat less, with this drought the prices are going to go up and they're going to be eating even less.

  • 13:15:28

    BRASHERAnd then there are also they've been very sensitive to the administration's promotion of locally produced foods and fruits and vegetables and so forth.

  • 13:15:39

    NNAMDISensitive, as in not liking it that much.

  • 13:15:43

    BRASHERNot liking it that much. (laugh)

  • 13:15:44

    NNAMDIAnd we're talking with Philip Brasher. He is editor of Congressional Quarterly's Executive Briefing on Agriculture and Food. He joins us in studio along with Bob Martin who is senior advisor for the Center for a Livable Future at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University. We're inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. Do you think the USDA's multiple missions are incompatible? Speaking of the USDA's multiple missions, Phil, maybe we should see the Meatless Monday controversy as a microcosm of bigger challenges facing the USDA.

  • 13:16:17

    NNAMDIMany of those challenges were evident in the recent Farm Bill wrangling. Isn't that correct?

  • 13:16:24

    BRASHERYes. I mean, there's no question USDA has very unique -- there's no other industry which has a department like which exists to promote it, but also to regulate it and also to fund it. And that's what USDA has. It's not just promotion, but it regulates and it provides enormous subsidies, both directly to farmers and also for soil and water conservation and to some extent regulates conservation practices and there's just inevitable conflicts between all these missions. And we haven't gotten into the area of food safety, as well. USDA shares the role of food safety with FDA, but USDA does regulate directly meat and poultry production, in terms of the safety.

  • 13:17:26

    NNAMDIDo you agree with people who say the agriculture department deals with a more diverse range of issues than any other government agencies? Everything from being the Farm Service Agency to the food stamp program.

  • 13:17:39

    BRASHERAbsolutely. And in fact, the nutrition programs you had in the school lunch and the school breakfast programs, that is the lion's share of USDA's budget. You mentioned the Farm Bill. Eighty percent of the Farm Bill goes to primarily the food stamp program.

  • 13:18:00

    MARTINWhen USDA was originally founded by the Morrill Act in 1862, it was designed to develop the best farming practices and to try to disseminate that information to farmers at the time. We were overwhelming an agricultural country at that time. And actually Iowa was the first state to adopt a land grant school. That legislation was passed in 1864. And soon after that Iowa established Iowa State University. And so it really was founded to promote the most current scientifically-based farming practices. And then after USDA operated for a few years the Extension Service was started in the late 1880s.

  • 13:18:53

    MARTINAnd then experimental farms, where the USDA would actually have experimental farm stations, they were called, to develop the most cutting edge ag practices. And so it's kind of evolved, though. I mean the Forest Service is part of the Ag Department. And we were talking about food stamps or nutrition assistance programs are part of the Ag Department. So it really has grown. And I don't think there's necessarily a conflict. I think it only appears to be a conflict when a segment of the industry seems to exert too much influence over the agency.

  • 13:19:30

    NNAMDIThere are quite a few callers who'd like to address these issues. Here is Gerry, who is in DuPont Circle. Gerry, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:19:38

    GERRYHi, Kojo. There's so many things to talk about, but I went on a website of foodandwaterwatch.org, for everybody to go there, about the Farm Bill and what's going on. Basically, deregulation has left farmers vulnerable to wild swings in the price of corn, beans and wheat. And our food system is broken and it did not happen by accident. And it's all this agri-business problem which takes over and is passing -- the USDA kind of is a spokesperson for them and they're passing on unhealthy food to our schools and to senior centers where they're not giving enough fruits and vegetables. That's really the bottom line. We need fruits and vegetables.

  • 13:20:21

    JERIWhat also is happening is that this means that the low prices paid to farmers are not passed on to the consumers as savings at the grocery store. So there's a whole -- like, it's basically corrupt and they're not responsive to the consumer, to the people. And also, for example...

  • 13:20:39

    NNAMDIWhat did you think of their Meatless Monday idea, Jeri?

  • 13:20:42

    JERII think it's a great idea. God forbid we should do something that's healthy at the USDA. And do you know, as far as grain and wheat goes, I'm getting health emails about wheat is not healthy. And everything is wheat. I went to Whole Foods to see about alternative grains and they're not even -- the health tip was not -- was totally against grains. It was, again, soy and dairy. And so we do need to change these things.

  • 13:21:08

    JERIBut on the website of Food and Water Watch, it also says that shopping will not change it. It's the whole system. It says here, but unfortunately...

  • 13:21:18

    NNAMDIWell, allow me to raise some questions 'cause you have raised a potpourri of issues here. First I'll start with you, Phil Brasher. This call from Jeri is an indication of just how wide the span of the USDA is and how, I guess, easy it is to blame the USDA for just about anything having to do with our health and our diets.

  • 13:21:40

    BRASHERRight. Certainly it has a role in terms of developing the dietary guidelines, in terms of some of its marketing and promotional work. A lot of what USDA does is done under the direction of congress and the farm bill and how they spend money. They don't have a lot of discretion in terms of what commodities they support and how they support them. That's all directed by the -- by congress.

  • 13:22:15

    NNAMDIJeri, thank you very much for your call. We're going to take a short break and when we come back, we'll weigh in or have people weigh in, as people apparently want to do, on the whole issue of Meatless Mondays and the health issues involving eating meat. The lines are full so if you'd like to get in touch with us, send us an email to kojo@wamu.org or a Tweet at kojoshow or go to our website, kojoshow.org, and join the conversation there. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 13:24:39

    NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking about the USDA Meatless Monday and the future of food policy with Bob Martin, is senior advisor for the Center of a Livable Future at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University. And Philip Brasher is editor of Congressional Quarterlies Executive Briefing on Agriculture and Food. We're taking your calls at 800-433-8850.

  • 13:25:02

    NNAMDIBob Martin, allow me to share with you two emails we got. The first from Joanne -- from Mary Jo who says, "Tell us more about Meatless Monday. What exactly is it? A diet, a movement? Does it include eating chicken and fish or is it a push to vegetarian-only meals?" And we got a Tweet from Tim who says, "Will your guests acknowledge at least that eating healthy does not necessarily mean eating less meat? What do they think of the paleo diet, which recommend lean meat and no refined carbs like wheat?" What say you, Bob Martin?

  • 13:25:32

    MARTINWell, Meatless Monday's a national program based in New York. It's called the Meatless Monday Campaign. The president is a man named Sid Lerner and executive director is Peggy Neu. And the Center for a Livable Future provides science and technical advice to the campaign. They do have a series of projects that engage the public in the dialogue about what we eat and how we produce what we eat. And they have several recipes. I would encourage listeners to go to the meatlessmonday.org site and review it.

  • 13:26:06

    MARTINI think that what the Center for a Livable Future and Meatless Mondays support is just a balanced diet. We don't say don't eat any meat. We say, one day a week don't eat meat and replace that protein source with beans and nuts and grains. I'm not too familiar with the diet that the other person write in about but I think that a healthy diet does include eating some meat, as the USDA dietary guidelines suggest, as Meatless Monday supports and as the Center for a Livable Future supports. It's just you don't have to have meat every day or three meals a day.

  • 13:26:50

    MARTINI grew up in the Midwest, started life on a farm in Kansas. And we ate meat at every meal. And we realize now that, you know, that's not probably the healthiest food choices. So it's more about balance and things in moderation than it is...

  • 13:27:10

    NNAMDIYou're from Kansas, Phil is from Texas so I guess you both grew up having a little bit of meat in your diets at some point.

  • 13:27:16

    BRASHERAbsolutely.

  • 13:27:17

    NNAMDIIf you have called, stay on the line. We will get to your call. But, Phil, I wanted to talk about a policy issue for a while because a lot of people in our audience may be surprised to learn that fruit and vegetables are considered specialty crops. Why is that and do we expect they'll see any benefits under whatever farm bill passes?

  • 13:27:36

    BRASHERThey do. They've long been -- fruits and vegetables and nuts have long been, in terms of farm policy, have been thrown into this category, specialty crops. It's a term that I avoid as much as possible, although it's still a term that's certainly used on Capitol Hill. And that's what people know them as. Traditionally they have not received direct subsidies. And, in fact, it's important to understand for most of the large fruit and vegetable growers who produce most of the fruits and vegetables we produce, they don't want subsidies. They don't want to -- the government to encourage expansion unless there's an expansion and increase in consumption as well.

  • 13:28:23

    BRASHERFruits and vegetables are -- they're very small markets, they can be very volatile and they're very sensitive to any kind of government policy that would increase production without also increasing consumption. To your question in terms of the farm bill, the last farm bill in particular significantly increased support for fruits and vegetables in areas other than the direct subsidies through research, for example. There's lots of diseases that the growers deal with and they want government assistance in terms of research on those diseases.

  • 13:29:02

    BRASHERMarketing, overseas marketing and so forth. There's a very popular program that was started in the 2002 farm bill to provide fresh fruits and vegetables as snacks in schools, particularly the poorer schools in order to -- with the idea of increasing getting kids used to eating fresh carrots and fresh vegetables and fruit, getting them to like them with the idea that they'll go home and talk about them with their parents. And that will increase consumption. That's very popular.

  • 13:29:37

    BRASHERBoth the Senate and the House versions of the farm bill would basically hold those -- keep those programs at their current level through the next five years. And the fruit and vegetable growers are very happy with those.

  • 13:29:51

    NNAMDIWe should reiterate the fact that when we're talking about Meatless Monday, it was not a USDA policy. What we discovered -- what we were talking about was an internal newsletter for USDA employees and that it somehow became public. And the association of the Cattlemen's Beef Association -- National Cattlemen's Beef Association objected to it. Bob Martin, you were going to say?

  • 13:30:14

    MARTINYeah, I was just going to say -- kind of reiterate what Philip said, and that's that that was an important change over historic farm bills what the support that he's outlined that fruits and vegetables are getting. You're right, they traditionally have balked at being part of the subsidy structure but, you know, the main commodities that are supported have gotten so much of the attention previously. So the farm bill that's expiring is -- was really an important change. And I just wanted to kind of reiterate that.

  • 13:30:43

    NNAMDIOn to the telephones now where the masses await us. Here is Kyle in Leesburg, Va. Kyle, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:30:51

    KYLEHi, thank you, Kojo. Just an interesting piece I came across on watching Discovery Channel National Geographic. If we ate -- if the world ate the way the United States does, they said that we would have to have four earths in order to sustain our current eating habits. And I think that with Meatless Monday, it not only will benefit our health, but also our conservation efforts for down the line. I'm 23 years old and one thing that I'm very concerned with is the food options that we are going to have in the next generation when my kids come about.

  • 13:31:31

    KYLEI don't know exactly what's going to happen, but I am concerned. And I think that if we do have something like a Meatless Monday, it would prove beneficial to society as a whole and teach us just a little bit about conserving.

  • 13:31:41

    NNAMDIBob Martin, one of the reasons that this was started in the first place?

  • 13:31:47

    MARTINThat's right. It was to improve public's health and to reduce the environmental footprint of individuals. You know, when it takes seven pounds of grain to produce one pound of beef and 2,000 gallons of water to produce one pound of ground beef and 40 times more energy to produce that beef than it does an equivalent amount of plant-based protein, there is a fairly serious environmental impact with meat production.

  • 13:32:18

    MARTINAnd, you know, it's -- there's a group -- or there's a report that was issued Agriculture at the Crossroads a couple of years ago. And it highlighted the fact that we produce enough calories now -- food calories to feed nine billion people but it's how those calories are being used, whether it's to feed animals, like 80 percent of the corn crop in the United States is used as cattle and livestock feed and ethanol usage, but it's the type of calories we're producing. How they're distributed and spoilage that creates the problem.

  • 13:32:52

    MARTINSo I think, to me, that's a hopeful thing if we just look at our ag system and the types of things we're producing and how they're distributed, the future's not quite so bleak.

  • 13:33:04

    NNAMDIWell, thank you much for -- thanks for your call, Kyle. Joining the conversation with maybe a slightly different point of view having to do with the relationship between meat and obesity is Kelly in Arlington, Va. Kelly, your turn. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:33:18

    KELLYHi, Kojo. Thanks for having me on the show. Earlier, one of your guests mentioned that there was a link between eating meat and things like obesity and cancer and heart disease. And I would just point out that while those things may be somehow related, that doesn't mean there's a causal relationship between those two things. I would argue that the majority of people who -- the American who eat a lot of meat and have those problems probably also eat a lot of refined sugars and refined grains. And those things I suspect have a lot more to do with those problems then result from meat. Not just eating the meat.

  • 13:33:54

    KELLYAnd I can say for about two years now I've followed roughly a paleo diet. And in that time I eat more meat than I ever have before. I've lost over 50 pounds and my blood pressure numbers are right in the middle where they need to be. My cholesterol numbers are where they need to be. And I -- you know, I think the grains and the sugars, which I've cut out, were the main culprit there.

  • 13:34:16

    NNAMDIWhat exactly is the paleo diet?

  • 13:34:18

    KELLYThe paleo diet essentially is cutting out any kind of refined sugars, almost all grains or eating mostly meat, fish, nuts, fruits and vegetables, but even fruit in limited quantity because fruit, after all, is primarily composed of fructose which is sugar. And the sugar, in many ways, wreaks havoc on your body's -- the way that your body utilizes those macro nutrients that you take in. And it causes things like cancer and it causes things like obesity. And if you eliminate that, I'm living proof that it -- that your body returns to a normal state.

  • 13:34:54

    NNAMDIWell, apparently that diet is working for Kelly and presumably for hundreds of thousands of others, Bob Martin. But that still does not address the argument of the carbon footprint, does it?

  • 13:35:05

    MARTINNo, it doesn't. And I think the caller's fairly unique as far as following that kind of diet and not -- you know, not expressing any health issues. I mean, there are numerous studies that show that great health risks with a high consumption of red and processed meats, mainly because of the higher saturated fats and dietary cholesterol. But, you're right, it doesn't address the environmental -- or climate change footprint at all.

  • 13:35:36

    NNAMDIAnd, Kelly, thank you very much for your call. Congress left town, Phil Brasher, for its August recess without resolving the farm bill. What are the basics that we're talking about here and who's winning or losing as far as we're concerned?

  • 13:35:51

    BRASHEROkay. Well, just so your listeners are -- just to catch them up, the congress writes a new farm bill roughly every five years. The current one expires the end of September. Now, congress waited really -- the House and Senate both waited until the spring to start writing this bill. They had -- in part because there was a lot of concern about a farm bill getting through the House, the Republican-controlled House, a lot of new Tea Party members who were not that supportive of subsidies of any kind.

  • 13:36:23

    BRASHERAnd there is -- both the House and the agriculture committees were very concerned about going to the House floor. And those concerns have pretty much been proven to be valid. The Republican leadership was leery of bringing up a farm bill. A committee passed one last month but they didn't bring it up because they didn't want to highlight divisions between -- within the Republican caucus over spending on a farm bill. And it would've been -- there would've been a fight over food stamp spending and potentially a number of amendments targeting the farm bill itself.

  • 13:37:02

    BRASHERSo Congress has left for their August recess. The current programs expire September 30. Congress will have to come back in September. I suspect their -- it's possible the bill may be on the House floor, but at any rate, they will have to do something at some point probably to extend the current programs for a while and deal with this possibly after the election, possibly next year.

  • 13:37:31

    NNAMDIPossibly next year we're talking about?

  • 13:37:33

    BRASHERWell, that's quite possible. You're talking about an election -- this is caught up in election year politics. Congress is only in for a few days in September and a week in October and then there's the election. There is a chance that they can put a bill together, work out a compromise that might be added to whatever tax bill were to come up in the lame duck session after the election.

  • 13:38:04

    NNAMDIWell, you're right because for the rest of us the months of the year are the months of the year. For the congress the months of the year have to do with the election and a lot of other interruptions. So here's Gladys in Centerville, Va. Gladys, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:38:18

    GLADYSHi, Kojo. Thank you. Yes, I am totally thrilled that you're addressing this issue -- this critical issue here. I'm absolutely in support of the Meatless Mondays. It's the least we can do towards moving away from this nightmare -- this whole food industry nightmare that we're in. And a third critical piece, other than the environment and the health of people is what happens to animals. I would just invite your listeners to read about factory farming. It will definitely open your eyes. The abuse of animals is something that also has to be considered when we think about food. Thank you for listening.

  • 13:38:51

    NNAMDIIt's one of the reasons that we invited the National Cattlemen's Beef Association to participate in this broadcast because we thought we would be getting calls like yours. But as I mentioned earlier, the organization declined. We move on to John in Alexandria, Va. John, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:39:08

    JOHNHow goes it, Kojo? I noticed you guys ain't talked about that little controverse (sic) we had a couple months ago the green slime they were putting in our food. I wonder if that's still going on. But my main thing is that people stopped eating meat 'cause of price and some other situation. But in my situation it's because it just started making me feel bad. And I'm in my 50s and I'm noticing that the food just doesn't taste the same anymore. And I'm at a loss really.

  • 13:39:35

    JOHNI mean, when I go out to eat or when I go to the grocery store, I'm standing there bewildered 'cause I'm scared of what I'm going to put in my body, and with all the drugs and everything they put in the meat. And if you try to get stuff that doesn't have the drugs in it, and that's not -- you're not for sure if that's true or not, it costs a lot of money. What does a person do?

  • 13:40:00

    NNAMDIWhat we're dealing here with Bob Martin is a great deal of skepticism on -- in both of our last calls about what the previous caller called factory farming. This caller, John, brought up green slime. There seems to be among some people a high level of distrust about exactly what we're getting when we're eating, and I'm just wondering what your own feelings are about that, and what that has to do in your view with the regulations of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

  • 13:40:28

    MARTINWell, I think there is a growing interest in how we produce our food.

  • 13:40:31

    NNAMDIIt's pink slime, not green slime.

  • 13:40:33

    MARTINYeah, pink slime. I think there's a growing interest among the consuming public in how we produce our food, and I think the industrial companies that control so much of the meat production in the country have really not been as transparent as they should be. They've not addressed those consumer concerns, and the caller is right. The industrial system uses 80 percent of the antibiotics sold in the country to offset the overcrowding and poor environmental conditions in the barns and facilities.

  • 13:41:11

    MARTINThey feed hormones, you know, synthetic hormones to promote growth. Five hundred million tons of waste are produced a year by the industrial farm animal system that become a disposal problem. In the previous more diversified system, when animals were part of an integrated operation, integrated with the crop production, it was a natural fertilizer and a positive resource. Now it's become a disposal problem.

  • 13:41:37

    MARTINNot all of those things of regulated by USDA, however. Animal waste is related by the Environmental Protection Agency. Industry has put pressure on the EPA to back away from some of their relations on permitting more of these industrial animal facilities. So they have a lot of influence, the industrial animal sector. They're very highly integrated, vertically integrated, and they're very powerful.

  • 13:42:03

    NNAMDIUSDA makes recommendations to us about eating all the time, but we got this email from Marie, Phil Brasher. "What I find to be odd," says Marie, "is that our society is getting to a point where we need our government and representatives to regulate how we eat. We were born with brains and should use them to make appropriate decisions for ourselves." What role does the USDA play in regulating what we eat?

  • 13:42:30

    BRASHERWell, no direct role in telling us what we eat. They do -- I think the primary role outside of this school lunch program where they regulate -- they have some -- regulate what's served in school meals and pretty soon what's served in vending machines and the like. I think the most important thing that they do outside of that is the dietary which they develop every five years in working with the Department of Health and Human Services and a panel of scientific advisors which is appointed to look at all the science that's happened in the last -- since the last dietary guidelines and make recommendations about what the best science tells us we should be eating and not -- eating more of and eating less of, and the result is the dietary guidelines.

  • 13:43:27

    BRASHERNow, these are not real consumer friendly. The food pyramid, now the my plate, which is graphic design which is supposed to communicate the messages to consumers. The primary use of the dietary guidelines is to provide advice to health professionals, doctors, nutritionists, dietitians and so forth, and also to guide the school nutrition -- the various nutrition programs that the government runs.

  • 13:44:02

    NNAMDII'm afraid that's all the time we have. Phillip Brasher is editor of Congressional Quarterlies Executive Briefing on Agriculture and Food. Phil, thank you very much for dropping in.

  • 13:44:10

    BRASHERThank you.

  • 13:44:11

    NNAMDIBob Martin is senior advisor for the Center for a Livable Future at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University. Bob Martin, good to see you again.

  • 13:44:20

    MARTINThank you, Kojo.

  • 13:44:21

    NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, it is your turn. You can start calling now. If you have already called about the previous issue, we can talk about that too, but the number is 800-433-8850. Want to talk about Pepco looking to rate hikes or the hearings that have been held about Pepco service in Montgomery County? 800-433-8850.

  • 13:44:44

    NNAMDIAnd speaking of Montgomery County, do you think traffic is actually getting better along Rockville Pike? There's a new traffic report commissioned by the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center that says that the worst traffic chokepoint along Rockville Pike and Jones Bridge actually saw a decline in vehicle traffic. 800-433-8850. It's your turn. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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