Farmers and ranchers don’t always agree with CSPI and its leader Michael Jacobson, but we do have common ground around being committed to providing healthy choices for everyone in America.  We are also both dedicated to protecting the environment and animal welfare – although we may have different ideas on how to do that.  In the spirit of dialogue, we asked Michael a few questions about Food Day.  Please note his opinions are not endorsed by U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance. We share this in the spirit of conversation and working together.

- Bob Stallman, chairman of USFRA and president of the American Farm Bureau Federation

USFRA: Tell us about the mission of Food Day 2012. What are you trying to accomplish?

Michael: Food Day is a time to move everyone from wherever they are on the food spectrum to a healthier, more environmentally sound place. We'd like to move junk-food eaters to diet soda, salad, and grilled rather than fried. Locavores could cut the fat and cholesterol by eating less cheese and more whole grains. In addition to personal dietary changes, we encourage people to consider the effect of their dietary choices on the whole food system, including food workers, the environment, and animal welfare (Food Day's Eat Real Quiz is a helpful device in that regard).  Importantly, we encourage people to use Food Day as a time to focus on and become advocates for improving local, state, or national food policies, because new policies are what will really change the food system.

USFRA: What are the types of improvements you would like to see in our present American food system?

Michael: The problems are diverse and challenging, and the remedies must also be diverse. But to give you an idea of what I think about, we need to:

Teach kids the disappearing art of cooking healthy meals.

Focus on protecting the environment, raising more nutritious plant and animal products, improve farm-animal welfare, and encourage healthier diets.

Wiping out hunger while improving health, be it through more generous benefits for fruits and vegetables, testing limits on using current supplements for sugary drinks, higher income support, greatly expanded jobs programs and other measures.

Incentivize companies to invest more heavily in marketing the most nutritious foods, starting with fresh fruit and vegetables.

USFRA: Food issues have never been more discussed than they are now. Why do you feel dialogue is important about addressing such topics as genetic engineering, farming practices and nutrition?

Michael: There is a great deal of information and misinformation regarding food. Real public discussion is essential, but all too often absent, to helping the general public understand problems, to put risks in perspective, and consider solutions.

USFRA: Genetically engineered food products have been controversial, and you have a wide range of perspectives represented within your Food Day constituency. What's your view on the current and future use of biotechnology and where are the common threads of interest that might bring opposing sides closer to consensus?

Michael: It is indisputable that agricultural biotechnology has the potential, which is starting to be realized, to protect crops from pests and drought and improve public and animal health. But opponents of genetic engineering have seized on industry's blunders and the public's understandable qualms about new technologies to jeopardize the use of biotechnology. One high government food regulator told me that the only effective way to quell unfounded concerns would be the marketing of foods that provided actual benefits to consumers. A different step forward would be for Congress to require the FDA to affirmatively approve crops to ensure that they are safe and assure the public that they are safe. Better education about agriculture would help people understand that genetic engineering is only one of many technologies – along with chemical mutagenesis, gamma irradiation, cloning, and hybridization – that are used to create improved crop varieties.

USFRA: The goal of Food Day is to strengthen and unify the food movement. In your opinion, what are the top 3 things people everywhere can do to help achieve this goal?

Michael:

Form or broaden coalitions to advocate for the aspects of the food system that the members care about.  

Show linkages between different kinds of food problems, such as farming and the environment, human health and animal welfare, and hunger and good nutrition.

Generate public discussion, through teach-ins at agricultural schools, debates with public officials, media coverage, publications, and meetings with industry, farmers and consumers.

USFRA: What's your favorite food?

Michael: That's like asking which child is my favorite!  I'm not a fancy eater. I love sweet watermelon and juicy peaches and great pears and ripe blueberries (and, I admit, they sometimes taste even better on top of a scoop of frozen yogurt or frozen soy dessert.)  ... and my lunches at the office often feature baked sweet potatoes or home-made bean-and-barley or vegetable soup.