Thursday, December 04, 2008

Reforms at USDA could prove difficult for Obama

As the Obama administration nears many believe that drastic changes are needed in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Such changes may prove difficult. "In cash-strapped times, the challenges of mounting new initiatives are daunting," writes Kimberly Kindy of The Washington Post. "And the USDA is still battling long-running problems: subsidy programs that give huge sums to ineligible, millionaire farmers; a food inspection system that puts Americans at risk for food-borne illnesses; and nutrition programs that fail to identify more than 30 percent of Americans who live in poverty and are at risk of hunger every month."

Obama has criticized farm policy in the U.S. for focusing on large farms, and last week he noted a Government Accountability Office finding that "USDA continued to give federal subsidies to ineligible, wealthy farmers despite a series of congressional reforms," notes Kindy. "Between 2003 and 2006, more than 2,700 farmers who were earning more than the cutoff of $2.5 million annually continued to receive subsidies." But changing the farm policy to strengthen support for smaller farms has met with opposition from both Democrats and Republicans.

USDA also handles food safety, and many argue those inspections need to be drastically improved. Kindy writes, "The USDA and 14 other departments and agencies administer a patchwork of food safety laws that often overlap and do not always make public safety the first priority. The department also handles nutrition, and another Obama campaign pledge -- to end childhood hunger by 2015 -- also presents immediate challenges. The nation's economic crisis has pushed the number of families relying on food stamps to 30 million, an unprecedented high expected to climb as unemployment rates continue to rise," adds Kindy. (Read more)

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