We are celebrating our nation’s independence with the July 4th holiday. Yet, for far too many Americans, the celebration was more about fireworks than freedom. Recently one of those late night television programs featured a man on the street segment where they interviewed random people and asked them questions about the birth of our nation. Most were college students from the east coast, and most could not even name the country from which the US became independent. This is not surprising since history is no longer taught in many schools or, when it is taught, focuses on cultures other than the US. Most Americans are also not aware that agriculture was a major reason the revolutionary war was fought.
The spark that ignited the flame of freedom in the thirteen, original colonies was a tax on food. The Sugar Act, the Tea Act, and other government mandated taxes imposed by England are what drove people to protest and politicians to pledge their lives, fortunes, and sacred honors. Unfortunately, our leaders of today did not learn from history as again taxes are being used on food, only this time they are being used to eliminate our freedom to choose. Taxes on soda, fast food, and snacks are being used to control our food choices. Proponents of these taxes want to trade our independent choices for a dependency on public health experts for decisions on what to eat and drink.
For most of our nation’s history, Americans have been proud to be independent. As a nation, we had the natural resources and ability to feed ourselves and to produce most of our industrial and technical needs. Our agricultural sector played a large role here, providing Americans with an abundant and affordable source of food. In fact, we were so good at producing food that most people forgot where it came from and took for granted that the shelves would always be full and the prices would always be low. According to the American Soybean Association, only 210,000 full-time US farms produce a product that is safe, abundant, and uniquely American: our food.
These farmers are also critical to our nation’s “food independence.” This food security does not happen by accident. It is a blessing that is fostered by smart policy: a policy that minimizes government regulation and that maximizes individual choice and a free market. That policy is changing, as government agencies impose more regulations and restrictions on farmers and on businesses.
In 1799, after years of colonies and states granting tracts of land to citizens encouraging people to plant crops and begin commerce, George Washington called for the establishment of the National Board of Agriculture to collect information on the nation’s agricultural inventories. President Abraham Lincoln then established the USDA in 1862, a department that has grown since then to become one of the largest and most all-encompassing bureaucracies in the world.
In recent years, the EPA and FDA have become aggressive in imposing ever more restrictive and intrusive rules on food and food production. Over the next 40 years, as the world population grows from 7 billion to 9 billion and demand for agricultural commodities doubles, we need policies that encourage investment and constant improvement, rather than control and dependence.
Independence is a concept that is being challenged today by those who favor government control of both the individual and agriculture. We must jealously guard the personal, economic, and political freedom that has made our nation great and our agriculture the envy of the world.
By Gary Truitt