Serving Minnesota and Northern Iowa.

Peterson calls for action to end hunger

By Janet Kubat Willette

Date Modified: 12/12/2012 9:03 PM

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MINNEAPOLIS — Hunger is real in rural Minnesota, Minnesota Farmers Union president Doug Peterson told members gathered for the organization's 71st annual banquet.

He presented what he called alarming facts:

• Hunger in Minnesota has doubled over the past five years;

• 11 percent of the state's population, about 600,000 people, are facing food insecurity. They lack consistent access to healthy, affordable food.

• One in ten people in Minnesota are hungry. Four of these 10 are children.

• There are 12 million kids in the United States who are food insecure. Of those, 3 million are younger than 5.

Hunger and food insecurity have consequences, Peterson said. The short-term costs for every one of those kids is $12,000 to the nation. Students who are hungry have lower test scores, lower motor skills, lower school performance and more sick days.

Hunger, he said, is unacceptable and preventable.

How can Minnesota Farmers Union and its members help?

Hunger has ties to this fall's election, Peterson said. It goes to the heart of what Farmers Union is lobbying for — the farm and nutrition bill.

The majority of farm bill spending, 82 percent, is for nutrition programs, Peterson said. It supports Meals on Wheels, the school hot lunch program, food stamps and nutrition for the elderly. More than a quarter of that spending, 23 percent, goes to rural nutrition programs.

For those who say there's fraud in the food stamp program, Peterson provided this statistic: The biggest users of the federal food stamps program, called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program since 2008, are people older than 63 years of age and those younger than 3.

"I don't think that those people are felons, ladies and gentlemen. And, I would just say to those members of Congress who've lost a sense of urgency in passing a farm bill … get it done."

He's heard rumors that the food and farm components of the farm bill will be separated and the farm bill extended a year.

It's ironic that in 1933 when the first farm bill passed, the reason for passage was to stabilize farm prices and secure food supplies, he said.

"We need a new sense of urgency for Congress to find those solutions," Peterson said.

He recently served on a panel where the mayor of Philadelphia asked him if the farm bill could solve urban food problems.

"Farm bills need to address nutrition and hunger in urban cities as well as rural areas," Peterson responded. "We need to have improved access to free school lunch programs with full calories, ladies and gentlemen, not empty calories."

He called Hubert Humphrey to mind, telling of Humphrey saying that the United States could provide all schoolchildren, public and private, with breakfast, lunch and dinner each day if the nation dedicated the cost of one bomber to the school lunch program.

That was quite a while ago, Peterson said, but the challenge of hunger remains.

"Hunger should be a priority in America and in Minnesota," he said. "We can do this. We can combat hunger. It is not a question of funding, but a question of priorities. Children in Minnesota and America must be a priority and deserve a full plate at the table."

Peterson pledged that Farmers Union will use its place at the policy table to advocate for full plates for children. Farmers Union will also advocate for a grain reserve, renewable fuels reserve, independence from foreign oil and call for revisting climate change.

Climate change has consequences, Peterson said. One need look no further than the damage wrought by the northeastern Minnesota floods, the national drought and Superstorm Sandy.

Farmers Union will also advocate for food diversity. The world will require a 70 percent increase in food production over the next 50 years in order to survive. The Minnesota Cooks program fits this by engaging chefs to find new ways to feature Minnesota Grown foods.

"The strength of our Farmers Union is only as strong as its members and the policy we make," Peterson said.

Now is a good time for Farmers Union, he said. He's hopeful the election results will yield positive results for farmers and farm policy.

"Minnesota Farmers Union has never been stronger than it has been today," Peterson said. "I've been involved in Farmers Union for 30 years and because of your membership and because of your involvement ladies and gentlemen and members, because of your belief that we can succeed in winning many of the fights we're in, because of that I have never been prouder of the privilege to lead this great organization."