Earlier this week, I was a speaker at Kansas State University. I wasn’t alone. I shared the podium with 5 other former Secretaries of Agriculture – Mike Espy and Dan Glickman (Democrats) and Ann Veneman, Mike Johanns, and Ed Schafer (Republicans).
It wasn’t just any old town hall event. It was the Landon Lecture, which was referred to by President Bush as "America’s most distinguished lecture series." Every President, going back as far as Richard Nixon has spoken over the years. All kinds of names that you would recognize have spoken at the Landon Lecture. (Robert Kennedy, Dan Rather, Bob Dole, Jesse Jackson, Henry Kissinger, Mikhail Gorbachev, every U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, just to name a few.
Our program lasted 2 hours. In that time, we were able to cover the landscape of issues. Here are some that were discussed:
1. The farm bill – all of us predicted that we would get a new farm bill, but no one knew just how the Congress would get it done.
2. Food stamps – Ann Veneman said there was legitimate concern that "the program has gone from about 20 million people on food stamps in 2008 to 47 million people today." Secretary Espy said, with the obesity problem, "people on food stamps should not be allowed to buy fatty foods or snacks on the taxpayers’ dime."
I had a suggestion. I said, in the school lunch program, students should weigh in. If they are too heavy, they go to the salad bar. If they are not heavy, they can have biscuits and gravy. Now, I know that we will never do that. But, after all, it is a government program and we should not be contributing to our obesity problem.
3. Biotechnology – with the increase in global population, we will need to double food production by 2050. I said we could not meet that goal without biotechnology. Dan Glickman seemed to suggest that biotechnology may not be the best solution in some cases. Mike Johanns said that we need biotechnology, but, in Africa, if they just had hybrid seed and fertilization, it would make a big difference.
4. Gridlock in Washington, D.C. – it was pretty well accepted by all of us that the gridlock is a product of serious differences of what government should and should not do. Also, there is too much money in politics and government programs. Politicians spend the taxpayers’ money to get elected. Money buys votes. Not good!