by Carla Curle
With the presidential race narrowing down and the delegate counts ratcheting up for the top candidates, it still seems that food and agriculture policy are missing in the stump speeches and media interviews.
Even as the candidates campaigned in top agricultural states such as Iowa, Nebraska, and Illinois, the discussion of national food policy initiatives never seemed to make it to the forefront of the discussions. Instead, the Renewable Fuel Standard loomed large as a top issue for many agriculture voters in these states, so much so that fuel-based agriculture was one topic they were grilled on.
This is unfortunate, not only for Friedman School students, but for the entire country, which is plagued by rising rates of diet-related disease, proliferation of non-sustainable farming practices, and limited access to healthful foods. Grassroots efforts at local and regional levels such as Food Policy Councils and Farm to School activities are popping up all around the country, signifying a growing desire for positive changes to our food system. And according to a recent nationwide poll by the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, public support for food sustainability is high and crosses party lines. Of the 800 respondents, 92% believe that producing food in a sustainable way is a high priority and 79% want scientists — not politicians — to set the dietary guidelines.
In order to highlight this broken food system in the presidential race, the Plate of the Union Initiative was launched through a collaboration by the Union of Concerned Scientists, Food Policy Action, and the HEAL Food Alliance. This initiative includes a petition to our next president that can be signed by anyone with access to the Internet and an interest in the American food system, and includes the following statement:
Our food system is out of balance, and it’s time to take action. Current food policies prioritize corporate interests at the expense of our health, the environment, and working families. This has led to spikes in obesity and type-2 diabetes, costing taxpayers billions of dollars each year.
If you are elected president, I urge you to take bold steps to reform our food system to make sure every American has equal access to healthy, affordable food that is fair to workers, good for the environment, and keeps farmers on the land.
The Plate of the Union Initiative also includes an Activist Toolkit (coming soon), which will allow users to download a toolkit with resources and ideas to help individuals get involved in reforming our current food system.
The Obama Administration has made significant strides in improving American nutrition, thanks largely in part to First Lady Michelle Obama. Over the past 8 years, changes to nutrition policy have been met by Republican opposition and significant industry pushback. Despite all of the hurdles, there have been meaningful improvements made to the school lunch program and WIC through the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. The next administration must build on these successes and continue to address the numerous food system issues that exist in this country.
Where do the current five candidates stand on food and farm policy?
Secretary Hillary Clinton’s policies focus on strengthening rural economies by investing in infrastructure and expanding access to credit, promoting clean energy and stewardship of the land, and increasing agricultural production and profitability for family farms. During her time as a senator from New York, Clinton worked to connect and bridge the divide between her lower-income urban constituents with upstate farmers through her “Farm to Fork” program.
Senator Bernie Sanders’ rural economy policy platform focuses on expanding support for young and beginning farmers, producing a nutritious and abundant food supply, and encouraging farmers to act as partners in promoting conservation and combating climate change. Sanders has also endorsed local food production and is worried about the “dangerous concentration of ownership that exists in agriculture and the food industry.”
Senator Ted Cruz’s food policy positions stem from his belief in limited government. Cruz voted against the 2014 Farm Bill, mainly because of its food stamp provisions and issues with the crop insurance program that he felt needed reform. He believes that agricultural subsidies should be focused on smaller and lower income farmers rather than “large conglomerate agricultural operations.”
The Ohio Farm Bureau named Governor John Kasich a “Friend of Agriculture” in 2014 for his support of the public policy goals that align with maintaining Ohio’s agricultural economy. Kasich has worked with environmental organizations and farmers to pass legislation to reduce nutrient runoff from agricultural operations. Kasich is the only Republican candidate who believes that humans contribute to climate change, but he does not want to end the use of fossil fuels entirely.
Little is known about Donald Trump’s stance on food or agriculture policy, but a few enlightening moments on the campaign trail may offer us some information. He doesn’t believe in climate change, calling it a “hoax” on multiple occasions, which doesn’t bode well for the mitigation and adaption that world leaders are calling for. In terms of food stamps, he believes something is “clearly wrong” when half of food stamp recipients have been receiving benefits for almost a decade.
It’s up to voters to demand answers from the candidates on the issues that matter to all of us: sustainable agriculture, improved animal welfare, access to healthy and affordable food, and fair working conditions. What can you as a food voter do? Sign the petition, research the candidates’ positions and voting records, and make sure you vote in the primaries and the general election in November.
Carla Curle is a second-year AFE student. She is also involved in the interdisciplinary Water: Systems, Science and Society (WSSS) program and is a firm believer that systems approaches to addressing problems will be the wave of the future. Also a co-chair of Slow Foods Tufts, you can find Carla nerding out over coffee, fermented items of any kind, and locally grown veggies. You can contact Carla at firstname.lastname@example.org.