Trump’s Trade Wars: How Steel and Aluminum Might Harm Hog Farmers

by Sam Jones

President Trump has been waging a trade war since early March, with China as his greatest adversary. Steel and aluminum manufacturing stood to benefit from these protectionist measures, but the U.S. agricultural sector is actually getting the raw end of the deal in this tit-for-tat dispute.

In the beginning of March, President Trump announced plans to place a 25% import tariff on all steel and a 10% import tariff on all aluminum. To follow through on his campaign promise of U.S. trade protectionism, the U.S. steel and aluminum manufacturing industry is the first group of intended beneficiaries. President Trump claims that unfair trade practices in other countries, namely China, have flooded the global market with these products, effectively lowering prices to uncompetitive levels.

The steel and aluminum manufacturing industry in the U.S. has seen a significant decline in jobs, with 135,000 people employed in the industry in 2000 compared to just over 83,000 in 2016, according to one source. However, industries that purchase steel and aluminum and rely on the current low prices actually employ far more people—6.5 million—than are employed on the manufacturing side. These industries include car manufacturers, beer companies, and the construction industry, to name a few. As a result, while these tariffs may be good news for a few tens of thousands of steel and aluminum manufacturers, over six million people employed by steel and aluminum buyers would likely be negatively impacted and possibly lose their jobs if production costs rise.

However, this only would have been the outcome if President Trump’s original plan to tax all steel and aluminum imports entering U.S. borders had become reality. The tariffs did go into effect at the beginning of April, but Canada and Mexico were immediately exempted from these trade restrictions. Before the tariffs had officially taken effect, the EU, Australia, Argentina, Brazil, and South Korea were granted temporary exemptions from the tariffs as well.

These trade exemptions are essentially being granted to political allies of the United States who threatened strict and politically targeted tariffs of their own in retaliation. These tariffs would have been imposed on quintessential American products, like Wisconsin cheese and Kentucky bourbon, that are produced in red majority regions (Wisconsin is Paul Ryan’s home state).

Politically, exempting these countries is a good idea because of this potential backlash, but these exemptions also severely undermine the original intention of the steel and aluminum tariffs. Canada, the EU, South Korea, Mexico, and Brazil are the top five sources of steel and aluminum imports for the U.S., with over $900 million-worth of imports coming from Canada and the EU alone. So which steel and aluminum exporters are affected by this policy? In one word: China.

Just like the retaliatory measures threatened by the exempted countries, China has its own punitive measures in mind. The potential targets of China’s tariffs are major U.S. agricultural export commodities like pork, soybeans, sorghum, tobacco, wine, and nuts. These products are chosen for specific, political reasons. The international community is well-aware of how the structure of our government impacts elections results. They know which districts voted red and which ones swung blue, which means they know that to impact the voters in red districts, they can target the industries that fuel their livelihoods. For instance, China is the largest consumer of both the pork and tobacco that is produced in North Carolina. As it happens, North Carolina went to Trump in the 2016 election. Not only is China retaliating against protectionist trade measures, but it also seemingly intends to aim their retaliation at President Trump and the Republican party directly.

The same can be said for taxing soybeans, most of which come from the Heartland that overwhelming votes Republican each election cycle. As for putting tariffs on wine and nuts, most of the nut exports come from California, which is a tried-and-true blue state. However, the Central Valley of California swings red and is the largest region of tree nut production in the country.

Hogs at Jodar Farms in Fort Collins, CO

Photo credit: Sam Jones

These politically-rooted trade tariffs may also help to explain why President Trump and his staff decided to exempt the countries they did. A reduced export market, or even a reduction in prices due to speculation, for Wisconsin cheese and Kentucky bourbon would not have been good for the political representatives of those districts. Such repercussions, however, seem unavoidable. When pork producers in North Carolina feel the repercussions of fewer sales and lower prices, they will tie their struggle directly back to President Trump’s decision to start a trade war with China.

As history continues to prove, the losers of trade wars almost always outnumber the winners. From the initial tariffs, the companies and their employees that rely on cheap steel and aluminum imports will suffer as production costs rise. Consumers of steel and aluminum products—like your thirst-quenching 12oz. can of PBR or a shiny Ford F-150—will suffer as higher production costs are pushed onto them. From China’s retaliatory measures, the U.S. farmers who produce the taxed goods will also suffer. Likewise, consumers in China will suffer from higher prices of these taxed U.S. agricultural products.

American farmers of competing products will also suffer because excess pork that cannot be exported will flood the domestic market, and consumers might switch from beef or chicken to the now-cheaper pork. With less beef and chicken consumption, corn and soy producers will also feel a hit. And with everyone’s prices falling, non-farm agricultural input industries will feel the trickle-down effect on top of revenue loss from rising steel and aluminum prices.

Because the steel and aluminum tariffs don’t even apply to the five largest exporters, the U.S. steel and aluminum manufacturing industry is not likely to experience a significant economic boost. In the end, Trump’s trade war managed to single out an openly hostile political adversary that was already facing steel and aluminum tariffs due to its unfair dumping practices. As a major importer of U.S. agricultural products, a disgruntled China ends up straining American farmers more than anyone else. And if it ends up hurting them so badly that they decide to release their frustration at the polls, there just might be a blue majority in the house this fall.

Sam Jones is a first-year AFE student with an interest in sustainable agriculture and food journalism. She is currently an intern at Culture Magazine and will be working on a flower farm this summer. You can read more of her work at culturecheesemag.com.

Friedman Policy Corner: A Call to Action for Aspiring Food Activists

by Ayten Salahi (MS/RD-FPAN) and Marielle Hampton (MS-AFE)

On February 5, the Friedman Food Policy Action Council (FFPAC) convened its inaugural meeting. Massachusetts Congressman Jim McGovern stopped by to offer words of wisdom, encouragement, and a call to action.

Congressman Jim McGovern offers words of wisdom at the inaugural meeting of new Tufts advocacy group, Friedman Food Policy Action Council.

Congressman Jim McGovern offers words of wisdom at the inaugural meeting of new Tufts advocacy group, Friedman Food Policy Action Council.

Congressman Jim McGovern surprised Tufts students with an impromptu visit at the first meeting of the newly formed Friedman Food Policy Action Council (FFPAC) on February 5, one week before the Trump administration announced its budget request for fiscal year 2019. Congressman McGovern, champion of anti-hunger causes and ranking member of the House Subcommittee on Nutrition, was visiting the school to discuss his recently launched bipartisan Food is Medicine Working Group in the House Hunger Caucus.

During the meeting, Congressman McGovern expressed his appreciation for the student initiative to get involved in advocacy, since “academia doesn’t always translate into activism.” When FFPAC founding member Ayten Salahi requested words of wisdom for students looking to get involved in political action, McGovern chuckled. “This is the toughest year you could have picked to get started, but that’s why it’s so incredibly important.”

He urged students to remember that people in government are supposed to be working for them. Even in the current political climate, he said, “pressure works.”

So how can students and citizens help? “Every elected official has one thing in common: they want to get re-elected. These issues are important enough that these people need to know if they’re not with you, you’re not with them. There has to be consequences… Nobody would tell you they’re pro-hunger, but judgment should be based on actions.

The Congressman then offered a crucial piece of advice that he adopts in his professional and personal life: Correct misinformation and provide facts.

Even in Congress, falsehoods are repeated regularly. He makes a point to correct the record, whether at a family dinner or among colleagues. “The average SNAP benefit is only about $1.40 per person per meal and the majority of people on SNAP are kids and senior citizens or disabled,” he explained. “The majority of beneficiaries who can work, work. The majority of people on SNAP are white, despite misconceptions. The USDA has been very effective at cracking down on SNAP fraud.”

Congressman McGovern’s guidance to hold our elected officials accountable may prove especially important for food and nutrition advocates this year, with changes to the Farm Bill slotted for congressional review in March.

On Monday, February 12th, the Trump administration announced its budget request for fiscal year 2019, which included a plan to cut 30% – $214 billion – from the SNAP budget over the course of 10 years. The proposed “cost-savings” would result from a major shake-up in the program’s benefit structure. Among the proposed changes, one has received significant publicity: Instead of receiving monthly funds loaded into EBT cards as is currently done, SNAP beneficiaries receiving $90 or more per month would receive half of their benefits in the form of a “USDA Foods Package,” packed with predetermined food items specifically chosen for their long shelf life. The package would include cereals, pastas, canned foods, peanut butter, and shelf-stable milk. Notably, no fresh fruits and vegetables would be included. No one has seen if or how these changes would be reflected in the 2018 Farm Bill.

While the administration calls the proposal a “cost-effective, Blue-Apron-style approach” with “no loss in food benefits to participants,” stakeholders are skeptical that the proposed “Harvest Box” is anything more than a distraction from work underway behind the scenes to slash federal funding for food assistance programs. Stacy Dean, vice president for food assistance policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities says, “I don’t think there’s really any support for their box plan. And, I worry that it’s a distraction from the budget’s proposal to cut SNAP by some 30 percent. That’s the real battle. But all anyone is talking about today are the boxes.” Ranking democrat on the agricultural committee Senator Debbie Stabenow also cautions that this “isn’t a serious proposal and is clearly meant to be a distraction.” Shortly following the release of the budget proposal, administration officials admitted that the food box plan had “virtually no chance of being implemented anytime soon,” rousing further suspicion around the administration’s motives in publicizing it so widely.

During his visit with FFPAC, Congressman McGovern expressed similar concerns, and emphasized how important it is that food policy activists and SNAP beneficiaries alike demand transparency from members of the House Committee on Agriculture on the drafting of the 2018 Farm Bill. Despite his role as Democratic ranking member of the House Subcommittee on Nutrition, Congressman McGovern shared that neither he nor his Republican counterpart has seen a single sentence of the updated Farm Bill, now under review with the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). He cautioned this lack of transparency around the latest draft as “a sign that someone is hiding something.”

Though it remains to be seen, the bill is anticipated to reflect significant reductions in the federal SNAP budget, which will have a direct and jarring impact on the sustenance and economic freedom of nearly 46 million low-income Americans who depend on the program to nourish both themselves and their families.

In his closing remarks, Congressman McGovern issued a call to action for us at Friedman – and for all those invested in the protection of health equity, food security, and social welfare – to call our representatives, and to demand transparency around the content of the latest Farm Bill, and when it will be made available for review. In the coming months, FFPAC pledges to maintain a finger on the pulse of the upcoming Farm Bill and rally advocates to hold representatives accountable for votes that jeopardize SNAP program benefits.

Friedman Food Policy Action Council (FFPAC) is a student-run organization of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. Our mission is to advance evidence-based nutrition and agricultural policies in support of public and environmental health, by equipping students with the skills and relationships necessary to impact policy through advocacy. For more information, or to join FFPAC, please contact friedmanfpac@gmail.com

Ayten Salahi is a first-year FPAN MS/RD candidate, co-founder of FFPAC, and is dedicated to the future of policy, programming, and clinical practice in sustainable diets and nutrition equity. Ayten came to Friedman after working as a molecular and clinical researcher in neuropharmacology and diabetes management for nearly 8 years.

Marielle Hampton is a first-year MS candidate in the Agriculture, Food, and Environment program and a co-founder of FFPAC. Marielle began her studies at Friedman after spending five years working with small farmers on Hawai‘i Island.

Paradise Lost

by Laura Barley

Climate change is a globally felt human experience that recently hit home for California native Laura Barley. Here, she reflects on the wildfires in her home state and takes a look at some policy tools aimed at climate mitigation.

California is on fire. Needless to say, the past two months have been a terrifying series of events. The Thomas Fire has devoured almost 275,000 acres, granting it the all-too dynamic status of the largest wildfire in California’s recent history. It wraps up the most destructive wildfire season California has on record, capping off at over 500,000 acres burned—more than double the total acreage burned in 2016. To add insult to injury some of those acres, charred of all vegetation by the Thomas Fire, bore the burden of a flash flood that killed 21 people in Montecito.

Even though the Friedman School pulled me to Boston, California is and always will be my home. For the most part, I watched the coverage of the Thomas Fire from afar. Tucked away in the icy confines of my Somerville apartment and Jaharis 118, I checked my phone every few hours to see who of my friends had been evacuated, which of my sun-streaked memory lanes had been destroyed. I couldn’t believe what I saw—apocalyptic images of scrubby hillsides swallowed by flames, plumes of orange clouds encompassing the whole sky. Each picture I saw boomed the same message over and over: that nothing would ever be the same again.

Photo credit: CNN.com

Photo credit: CNN.com

The frequency of large-scale devastation speaks for itself: California’s climate is changing. It appears that the massive strain on the state’s agricultural and urban water resources, fueled by the longstanding lure of its eternal growing season and illustrious vision of paradise, have come to a reckoning. Years of prolonged drought followed by a sporadic year of intense rainfall have created ecosystems irresilient to the rapid shifts—groundwater and river basins have all but dried up, leaving forest and chaparral ecosystems as little more than tinderboxes. The euphoric agricultural and commercial boons of the twentieth century have lurched into a twenty-first century defined by scarcity, uncertainty, and dramatic change.

So, what’s really at stake here? Climates change, they have for eons. Species perish and adapt in the great equilibrium of life. And we—Californians, Americans, humans—will adapt too, hopefully in a timely manner. But much of the world finds itself in the middle of a cycle that feels beyond our control, where the climate interventions we make barely seem to break even. The tons of carbon dioxide emissions from a single large-scale wildfire, like the Thomas or Napa Fires, are estimated to equal the annual emissions of all motor vehicles in the state, and definitively offset much of the progress made by the state’s cap-and-trade program.

For the foreseeable future, California and much of the American West will continue to battle climate change on multiple fronts—greenhouse gas emissions, sea level rise, flash flood and wildfire mitigation, to name a few. Encouragingly, Governor Jerry Brown’s administration has made significant headway towards a baseline system of climate accountability across the state. In addition to the emissions cap-and-trade program, since 2009 the Safeguarding California plan has established a template for large-scale climate change adaptation strategies, and continues to convene action plans across multiple state and municipal departments. Additionally, the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act of 2014 has finally enacted groundwater monitoring protocol in a state that will continue to rely almost exclusively on subterranean water stores for agricultural production. These are positive signs of political responsiveness, and hopefully yield noticeable impacts in the years to come.

But at the heart of climate change, there exists a loss more worrisome than any policy analysis or statistics could project. For me, for now, the loss is purely psychological. The sense that all of us feel to some extent, which is felt especially strongly in California and the developed world at large, the sense that nothing bad can ever happen to us—that’s gone now.

Enduring the human experience of losing the places we’ve built from scratch, places with cultural and spiritual significance, places we call home—this is the global price many of us will have to pay in the coming decades. The stories of devastation and loss are the stories we should be paying attention to, the stories that make the numbers real. More importantly, they’re the stories that motivate us to action, out of fear and compassion that nothing so terrible should ever happen to us again. Because every time it happens, it shouldn’t.

Laura Barley is a second-year AFE Master’s student, who grew up in the Bay Area and lived in Southern California while attending UC Santa Barbara. She is a member of the Water Systems, Science, and Society research program aimed at mitigating water constraints to healthier diets. Most importantly, she strives to be a climate optimist.

Overdue for Overtime

by Julie Kurtz

A new California law just enacted the most revolutionary labor standards since the creation of the 40-hour work week.  What is it?  Well, it’s the 40-hour work week. But will it improve equality? Will it impact the cost of your food? Will equitable farm labor make your vegetables healthier? And will the new law change the curriculum at Friedman?

On Monday September 12th, California Governor Jerry Brown signed monumental legislation that should be of interest to all Friedman students. California Assembly Bill 1066 will require that agricultural workers be paid overtime for working more than eight hours in a day or forty hours in a week. While this may seem like a no-brainer, the current standard requires workers to work 10 hours/day and 60 hours/week before earning their overtime pay. The changes will be incremental starting in 2019, with full realization of the law by 2022 for most farms and 2025 for farms with fewer than 25 employees.

We take for granted the forty-hour week as a cornerstone of American work ethics, representing fair working hours and honoring the dignity of work. Many industries had a forty-hour workweek in place well before the 20th century. In the heat of the workers’ rights movements, victory came with the passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938, guaranteeing a maximum work hour week—or overtime compensation when forty hours were surpassed.

However, agricultural workers were exempt.

As were domestic workers.

In the 1930s African-Americans were disproportionately employed in agricultural and domestic labor. President Roosevelt signed the Fair Labors Standards Act knowing it was a compromise with Southern Congressmen who had a vested interest in excluding black employees to preserve the plantation-style economy of sharecroppers and black domestic workers.

While there are practical reasons why agricultural workers remained excluded from the labor rights that most Americans enjoy, mostly related to seasonality, it is clear that enormous power differentials persist between farm laborers and farm owners. In California more than 90% of farm laborers are Latino, and 80% are immigrants. Given the long history of labor exploitation in US Agriculture, what does it mean that the agricultural giant California has set this precedent of equality? Will the new overtime legislation be effective? Or are there loopholes that will inevitably allow the continued overworking of farm laborers? Will other states follow in California’s footsteps? And finally, to bring things back home, why should California Assembly Bill 1066 be discussed at 150 Harrison Avenue?

One of Friedman’s great strengths is our integrated approach to food. Friedman extends into every corner of the food system, from cutting edge nutritional science, consumer behavior, and food policy economics, to the environmental impacts of agriculture. Our system-wide approach enables Friedman to engage one of the most complex challenges on the planet: how to feed ourselves. But there is a realm where our reach rarely extends: labor.

I came to Friedman in part because we ask questions like “Is this tomato that is grown in nutrient-rich biodynamic soils healthier than a conventional tomato? Is it healthier for our bodies? Is it healthier for the land and for the sustainability of agriculture?” I’m thrilled that my education is helping me answer and provide insight to those questions. I’m less certain where on this campus we can ask: “Is this tomato that was grown by an equitably-paid farmer who has access to healthcare, leisure time, and education, as healthy as a tomato grown by a farmer who works 12-hour days, sees her children only briefly at dawn and night, and lacks a nutritious diet, time for education, and access to medical attention?”

Can healthy food come from an exploited workforce?

Second-year students from Friedman’s Agricultural Science & Policy II course recognized this gap in our education and knowledge. We do not feel equipped to evaluate and understand the impact of California’s new law in the grander context of the food system. As policy students we frequently discuss the “inputs” that go into our food: technology, land, and fertilizers. Labor is another input. But labor is people. We need a different set of tools to consider the migrant harvesters, the meat processors, the truck drivers, and the line cooks—the people without whom nutrition students would have nothing to study in the first place.

Fortunately we have a supportive faculty who has recognized the hole, and are working alongside us to bridge the gap. In fact, the entire Friedman community is invited to help bridge the gap:

  • In October the Friedman Seminar Committee will meet to determine Spring 2017 Seminar speakers and they will consider agricultural labor experts. To that end, students are invited (as they always are) to send speaker suggestions to Christian.Peters@tufts.edu.
  • Due to student requests, two AFE core courses (Nutr215 and Nutr333) will dedicate classroom time to address farm labor and the new California law. Interested students are invited to attend those lecture and discussion dates, and can email Timothy.Griffin@tufts.edu for more information.
  • As Friedman administration seeks to hire new faculty, we urge consideration of candidates with expertise in farm labor, food system law and justice.
  • Second-year AFE student Caitlin Joseph is spearheading a student-directed course on Agricultural Labor Policy and Justice in Spring 2017. Students interested in joining should contact her at Caitlin.Joseph@tufts.edu.

California AB 1066 did not materialize out of nowhere. How does its signing fit into the broader picture of dismantling inequality in the food system? As Friedman students and faculty, can we satisfactorily discuss nourishment if we are not equally concerned with the welfare of those who bring food to our table? What models exist to dismantle this systemic oppression? What impacts will those models have on the environment, on the economy, on nutrition, on academia, and mostly pertinently, on the labor force? And how can we integrate those models into the Friedman curriculum?

Julie Kurtz is in her second semester of the AFE program. She landed at Friedman after acting professionally in San Francisco, practicing Emergency Medicine in Minnesota, and farming in Bolivia.