Secretary of Agriculture Ann M. Veneman yesterday [Wednesday] outlined an almost utopian vision for food and farm policy radically different from the 70 years of US experience with government intervention. Although the proposal has the personal endorsement of President George Bush, his administration’s top officials are acutely aware its goals are difficult to achieve in the political arena because many of them challenge an established power structure of commercial-scale crop producers reluctant to part with their current support.

Veneman’s approach no doubt will invite criticism also because it seeks to adapt to, rather than resist, the consumer-driven “supply chain” forces rapidly altering the food and agricultural system. Considering such economic forces inevitable, the policy highlights the benefits both producers and processors can derive from contract arrangements. It fully endorses biotechnology but concedes new institutional arrangements may be needed to realise its benefits.

In addition, Veneman suggests increased attention to research and control of animal and plant diseases and protection of food safety, more environmental benefits in return for conservation payments, creation of new jobs in rural areas, stronger focus on nutrition and “particular attention in the delivery of food assistance for low-income families.”

US farm supports would have to be scaled back from the record costs under “Freedom to Farm” programs so as not to encourage excessive production and reliance on government and to give US trade negotiators ammunition to press for ending market access barriers and export subsidies by other countries. It would move further away from supporting the price of farm commodities and put more emphasis on farmers’ income.