Monday, December 07, 2009

Historical hope and the usual suspects

In the middle of a highly informative and interesting run down of the history of the US Dept of Agriculture and the lessons it provides for health care reform (seriously), Atul Gawande throws out this little gem:

The department invested heavily in providing timely data to farmers, so that they could make more rational planting decisions. It ran the country’s weather-forecasting system. And its statistics service adopted crop-reporting systems from Europe that allowed it to provide independent crop forecasts—forecasts that, among other things, dramatically reduced speculation bubbles. (In 1927, Republicans, prompted by aggrieved New York speculators, managed to prohibit the U.S.D.A. from releasing the forecasts; the program was reinstituted three years later, following an outcry from farmers.) The department continuously updated its storehouse of technical assistance, so that when new technologies arrived—new hybrid varieties, new kinds of fertilizer, new forms of mechanization—farmers were able to make use of them more swiftly and effectively. The U.S.D.A. established an information-broadcasting service. A hundred and seventeen commercial and forty-six military radio stations carried crop reports; printed reports were distributed to fifteen million farmers a year. It also introduced a grading system for food—meat, eggs, dairy products, and fresh fruits and vegetables—to flag and discourage substandard quality.



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