Regulations hurt baking industry
I am a member of the U.S. baking industry and am proud to be a part of a business that produces an essential staple of our diet - bread. From toast or bagels in the morning, to a sandwich at lunch, and rolls at dinner, bread truly lives up to its descriptor as the "staff of life."
Today, bakers suddenly find themselves on the front line of an intensifying food industry crisis, facing rapidly shrinking supplies of flour due to tight wheat supplies, accompanied by escalating raw material and commodity costs. The "recipe" for this crisis includes diverse ingredients; increased worldwide demand for wheat; the devaluation of the dollar; and droughts in key wheatproducing countries.
U.S. government policy has also played an important role. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Conservation Reserve Program takes viable acres out of production by offering farmers incentives not to produce crops on their land, when the government ethanol program, through special subsidies and incentives grow sfood crops for alternative fuel purposes.
The end result is that bakers are struggling to provide a consistent supply of reasonably-priced bread and other baked goods to the market, and consumers are juggling grocery bills that are taking ever bigger bites out of stretched monthly food budgets.
Here are three steps the government can take now to help alleviate the current commodity crisis. Increase the flexibility of the reserve program. We believe that as much as one-third of enrolled acres could be returned to production without sacrificing environmental conservation goals. Implement a more balanced policy to address food and fuel needs. Land once used to produce wheat and other crops for food is now being used to grow crops for fuel. It is important to find alternative, cleaner fuel sources, but not at the expense of the food Americans purchase to feed their families. Factoring domestic industry needs into wheat export decisions. In this environment, the appropriate role of government should be to take whatever steps are necessary to keep supplies flowing to the market, with priority given to domestic users.
While remaining hopeful that the coming growing season will result in strong harvests of all commodities including wheat, I remain concerned that without changes in government policy, current market problems will become long-term trends - to the detriment of the American food industry and ultimately the American consumer.
Andrea Colognese Village Hearth Bakery