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Academic: Regional, local food programs at stake in presidential election

Susan Schneider

Susan Schneider

The Obama administration has aided regional and local food production programs in an unprecedented fashion and the future of those programs may be at stake in the 2012 presidential election, a prominent agricultural law professor said Sunday.

Susan Schneider, a law professor at the University of Arkansas and director of its program in agricultural and food law, wrote in a blogpost that “Prior to the Obama administration, the USDA had very little interest in providing support to the local food movement.”

The combination of the “Know You Farmer, Know Your Food” initiative, First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign, the use of food stamp benefits at farmers’ markets and the revision of the dietary guidelines and school meals rules have provided substantial resources within the existing budget to local and regional food producers, she said.

Schneider also wrote that the “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” initiative “was developed over the strong opposition of many Republicans.”

She noted that Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member Pat Roberts, R-Kan., Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., had all written Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack a letter charging that “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” is “aimed at small, hobbyist and organic producers whose customers generally consist of affluent patrons at urban farmers markets,” and questioning that focus in a time of government budgetary constraints.

Schneider maintained in the blogpost that there is evidence that locally and regionally-oriented farm programs improve local economies.

“I cannot address former Gov. Romney’s ideas on agricultural or food policy,” Schneider wrote. “But, we have a record of four years of USDA policies in support of local/regional foods. And, it is clear that this represents a dramatic shift from prior USDA policies that the Obama administration can claim as its own. Whether that shift continues may well be determined next week in the election.”