No matter what path you take in your nutrition career, you will be affected by policy. Fortunately, our political system is built in such a way that gives voice to lay-people, but only if we exercise our rights. This fact should motivate us all to engage in the political process, particularly at a time when many of the programs we support or rely upon are threatened by the priorities of the incoming administration. Determining where to start can seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be.
New legislation starts at the local, state, or federal level as a simple idea. This idea is written up as a bill or resolution, sponsored by a Member of Congress (MoC), driven through committee and chamber amendments, and ultimately lands on the president’s desk to be signed into law or vetoed*.1
Existing legislation undergoes edits at regular intervals, wherein elected officials have an opportunity to influence legislative priorities, adjust funding levels or alter programs in other ways. Just because a program or policy remains in a bill, does not mean it is funded, however. Mandatory programs are ensured funding during the annual appropriations process, but discretionary programs are only allocated funding if priorities and budgets allow.
Where to Start: Nutrition Legislation
Nutrition interests fall under a number of different pieces of legislation; most notably, and imminently, the Farm Bill, but also Child Nutrition Reauthorization (CNR). President Franklin Roosevelt signed into law the original farm bill in 1933 (Agriculture Adjustment Act), as a way of maintaining fair food prices for consumers and farmers; protecting natural resources; and ensuring a stable food supply following the Great Depression and Dust Bowl (think: fair prices, environmental protection and stable supply).2 Every five years since then, our political leaders draft, debate, name and sign into law an updated version of this bill.
The Farm Bill is a piece of omnibus legislation, meaning it addresses a variety of separate issues.3 Consequently, the Farm Bill is a key target for advocacy no matter your specific cause within nutrition. Daniel Imhoff, author of Food Fight, outlines a number of existing problems in our nation’s food system with solutions buried in the Farm Bill:
- “Consolidation and concentration in the hands of a few corporate agribusinesses
- Soil and biodiversity loss
- Converging national health crisis
- Childhood obesity on the rise
- Chronic hunger and improper nutrition that affects over 45 million Americans
- Sprawl into prime farmland
- Record budget deficits
- World Trade Organization rulings declaring U.S. export subsidies illegal
- Devastated farm communities
- Rapidly aging U.S. farm population
- Escalating energy costs
- Increasing dependence on commodity exports and imports of ‘fresh’ food
- Water contamination and water shortages
- Global warming
- Increasing outbreaks of infectious diseases related to confinement livestock production
- Declining honeybee and native pollinator populations
- Costly corn ethanol program”3
Remember: You are the Experts!
Legislators are experts in the lawmaking process, but they often know little about specific interest areas. This is where they look to staff members and outside experts for guidance. There are countless ways we can share our industrial knowledge with MoCs, including: writing an opinion editorial; writing a letter to the editor; inviting elected officials to industry programs; telling stories through social media; making calls or visiting our MoCs to name a few.
Where to start
- Sign up for policy alerts: a number of organizations offer alerts for issues they represent, including groups such as Feeding America, FRAC, National Farm to School Network, as well as local organizations.
- Seek information: Familiarize yourself with effective nutrition programs and the work of agencies such as the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) or the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). In addition, familiarize yourself with the goals of your MoC: how might they view your issue area and how can you motivate them to action?
- Get involved: Attend the Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior’s (SNEB) annual conference in Washington D.C. June 20-24, 2017.4 While you are in D.C., take the opportunity to visit your elected MoC!
- Think LOCAL: Your efforts are no less important or effective at the local level. In fact, they can often be more relevant and targeted! Ideas for engagement include town halls, non-town hall events, district office meetings and/or coordinated calls.5
In addition to each of these ideas, the Laurie M. Tisch Center for Food, Education & Policy sends out action alerts and opportunities for advocacy through their newsletter (http://www.tc.columbia.edu/tisch/newsletter/newsletter-sign-up/) and social media channels (Twitter: @tischfoodcenter & Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/tischfoodcenter/).
*Note, this describes the Federal legislative process, but the state and local processes are very similar
- United States House of Representatives. The Legislative Process. http://www.house.gov/content/learn/legislative_process/. Accessed January 11, 2017.
- National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. What is the Farm Bill? http://sustainableagriculture.net/our-work/campaigns/fbcampaign/what-is-the-farm-bill/. Accessed January 10, 2017.
- Imhoff D. Food Fight: The Citizen’s Guide to the Next Food and Farm Bill. Watershed Media; 2012.
- Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior. Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior 50th Annual Conference 2017; https://www.sneb.org/2017. Accessed January 10, 2017.
- Padilla A, Fleming B, Kavit C, et al. Indivisible: A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda January 14, 2017 2017.