Dear Governor Evers,
We agree with you that “the prosperity of rural Wisconsin is directly tied to the health of agriculture”.(1) That's why we support your budget proposal for $1,000,000 in additional funding for organic agriculture and $200,000 for grazing grants. We write now as health professionals to urge even broader investments in Wisconsin's food and drinking water systems (2)―investments that will help build an even stronger foundation for the healthier, more sustainable future we want for Wisconsin's children, farmers and other citizens.
Wisconsin isn't unique in struggling with epidemics of chronic disease related to poor diet: obesity, diabetes, cancer and heart disease. Meanwhile, our farmers struggle with declining income, uncertain trade environments, extreme weather events, and rising challenges from pollution and foodborne disease outbreaks. More than 30 rural counties lost population from 2009-14, eroding their ability to sustain jobs and schools, hospitals and other essential services. We lose one additional dairy farm each day. These abhorrent trends run counter to the building of resilient, thriving rural communities.
Wisconsin can blaze a better path forward, we believe, by investing concurrently in public health, healthier food and sustainable agriculture. For example, we urge you to: KEEP HEALTHCARE AFFORDABLE. With 70% of the Wisconsin, we support your budget proposal to accept federal Medicaid expansion dollars, which should help hold health insurance costs down for our already-stressed farmers. Please do what you can to ensure preexisting conditions will continue to be covered, removing another source of financial stress and uncertainty for farmers, and letting them focus energy on what they know best―producing good food for kids, and the nation. INVEST TO HELP SCHOOLKIDS EAT MORE HEALTHY FOODS BOUGHT FROM WISCONSIN FARMERS. Around a third of schoolchildren who are served more local foods will eat more fruits and vegetables, which helps to offsets higher-trending obesity and diabetes among children.(3) We applaud your commitment to $200,000 in annual farm-to-school grants funding that will allow more Wisconsin farmers and school districts to participate in these programs.(4) Please consider setting a goal for funding these programs at a level where as many schools as want to will be able to buy fresh produce, dairy and other products from Wisconsin farms and farmers.
CREATE INCENTIVES FOR FARMERS TO INVEST IN SOIL HEALTH. Make it easy for Wisconsin farmers to choose soil health practices that in turn retain water, reduce polluted runoff, improve the soil microbiome and reduce pests without excessive pesticide use. For example, Iowa’s Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship incentivizes farmers with a $5-per-acre crop insurance subsidy, that helps offset the costs of cover-cropping.(5)
PRIORITIZE SAFE WATERS, SAFE KIDS. Drinking water instead of soda or other sugary drinks is an important health strategy for kids. But water in Wisconsin’s schools and communities must be safe to promote its consumption. We deeply appreciate the promised actions under your Safe Water, Safe Kids proposal: establishing a revolving loan program to replace contaminated wells and lead pipes, as well as programs to help lead poisoned children realize their full potential by addressing the academic under-performance and adverse behaviors than can result. No level of lead in drinking water is safe, yet Wisconsin is one of 25 states with neither policy nor a state program that tests drinking water for lead contamination.(6) We urge your leadership to remedy that policy gap, without delay.(7)
Having sustainable access to healthy food and drinking water is important for all of us, but especially for our children. Those goals can be realized in ways that generate health and economic benefits for farmers, their families and rural communities, as well. We urge your continued leadership in pursuit of that vision. Thank you for your consideration. Sincerely,
Roy Ozanne, MD, HMD, Two Rivers, WITaran Green, RN, PHNAndrew Lewandowski, DOSusan Ashton, RN, PHN,Claire Gervais, MD, MadisonPaula Rogge, MD, Madison
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(1) www.TonyEvers.com/plan.(2) See Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, Center for a Liveable Future. Food Systems and Public Health Program Areas. https://www.jhsph.edu/research/centers-and-institutes/johns-hopkins-center-for-a-livable-future/about/program_areas. Also, see “A Food Systems Approach to Healthy Food and Agricultural Policy” in Health Affairs, 34(11), 1908-1915. https://doi.org/10.1377/hlthaff.2015.0926.(3) See School Meal Programs Innovate to Improve Student Nutrition, a report from the Pew Charitable Trusts and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.(4) For comparison, this year Michigan’s Ten Cents a Meal pilot program will grant nearly $600,000 to food service directors in 57 school districts in 27 counties to buy more, locally-produced produce and legumes from hundreds of Michigan farms.(5) See https://www.agriculture.com/news/crops/jan-15-deadline-for-iowa-farmers-in-cover-crop-crop-insurance-project.(6) See https://www.wisconsinwatch.org/2016/12/regulatory-vacuum-exposes-wisconsin-children-to-lead-in-drinking-water-at-schools-day-care-centers/. In 2016, six percent of 3,000 water fountains tested in Milwaukee schools were found to have lead levels high enough to cause brain damage and lost IQ points; the problem schools included those hosting early childhood education. A year later, the Washington Center for Investigative Journalism identified high lead levels in drinking water in schools in Wasau and Middleton, as well.(7) A California law, AB 746, serves as a good model. Enacted two years ago, it required that community water systems test drinking water in all K-12 schools for lead and other specific pollutants within 18 months.