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Food is a fundamental part of life for every American every day. In the United States, food accounts for 13 percent of personal household expenditures, behind only housing and transportation costs. The food sector is a major economic driver, contributing about $800 billion dollars annually to the U.S. economy. Food is a labor issue, providing 17 million jobs in agriculture, food services, and manufacturing.
But food is increasingly also a public health issue. Obesity costs Americans more than $300 billion dollars each year in medical and treatment costs and in decreased productivity. Despite the abundance of food, one in seven Americans experience periods of food insecurity, including 12 million children. The widespread use of antibiotics in livestock intended for human consumption is leading to alarming rates of antibiotic resistance.
As this country prepares for a change in leadership, attracting attention to food issues must be part of the debate. The same overarching themes that have dominated the political landscape for decades persist: the environment, water, immigration, domestic and global security, civil rights, education, justice, and economic opportunity. Each of these is intertwined with our food system. Understanding the challenges and interconnections and offering solutions is fundamental to meaningful change.
Improving the US food system depends upon bipartisan acknowledgment of the problems, followed by a commitment to open, thoughtful and creative dialogue on reaching reasonable solutions. With consensus we can solve some of America’s most pressing nonpartisan concerns like hunger and obesity.
This Spring, the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at the Georgetown University Law Center will gather leading governmental, academic and civil-society leaders to identify practical, workable solutions to legal and regulatory issues in the United States food system that are causing health issues. While many groups have examined food-related policy, management, and economic questions, this conference will uniquely focus on where the law can improve public health by strengthening the U.S. food system. The purpose of this conference is to generate a clear articulation of the range of legal and regulatory solutions available to whoever is elected in 2016. This conference will provide a resource for 2016 candidates, currently elected officials and their staff, attorneys in executive and legislative branch agencies, policymakers, and other key players working directly on food issues as well as other key political areas that directly impact our food system like agriculture, immigration and trade.
The essential vision for the O’Neill Institute rests upon the proposition that the law has been, and will remain, a fundamental tool for solving critical health problems in our local, national, and global communities. By hosting this conference, our aim is to contribute a more tangible understanding of the multiple ways in which law can be used to improve the food system. The O’Neill Institute hopes to encourage key decision-makers in the public, private, and civil society sectors to employ the law as a positive tool to enable individuals and populations in the United States to lead healthier lives.
Proceedings and White Paper
The O’Neill Institute will publish the proceedings from this conference. Additionally, we will synthesize the findings into a concise white paper that will inform candidates, interest groups, and consumers about the legal options to address significant health issues related to food that should be part of the public debate and the 2017 legislative agenda. The white paper will explain the problem, its impact on public health and identify potential legislative solutions.