The incontrovertible connection between human health and the kinds of food we put in our mouths was underscored last week by visiting Texas A&M vice chancellor and dean for agriculture Patrick Stover. It was a message that we all need to take to heart, not only to save that human organ but to help maintain the vitality of our agriculture economy.
In essence Stover predicted a sea change in the way we identify dietary nutrition, which is being driven by the exploding cost of treating chronic diseases like diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular ailments. Where dietary nutrition has previously been driven by advocacy (special interest groups) and a modicum of science, the standards are expected to become much more rigorous, akin to tests applied to the medicines we consume.
As an example, which was cited by Stover, the ag bill currently before the U.S. Senate requires the United States Department of Agriculture to report to Congress within 180 days how agriculture can be used to lower the $1 trillion annual cost of health care. That is a pretty clear mandate that the previous expectations for agriculture to provide the basics of food, fiber and fuel no longer apply.
In our community we see first hand the ravages wrought by diabetes, cancer and heart disease, and we know beyond a reasonable doubt that in a high percentage of those cases diet has been the cause or, at the very least, exacerbated the illness.
It will be helpful to now have the full weight of science to tell us – much as what happened with first tobacco and most recently opioids – that some food will kill us. Not all will heed the warnings when they are writ larger, but in time the evidence will make a difference.
In the meantime, growers and producers will benefit from new research expected to be generated through A&M AgriLife Research that identifies ways to put more micronutrients into crops while removing calories.
Clearly there is a balancing act in trying to feed the world’s population without killing people at the same time. And in some countries, death from hunger is far more pressing than dietary nutrition. In the U.S., however, we have the luxury to choose and it is time we had the best information to make those decisions wise ones.