Nov 3 2008


Lucien Joppen, who writes for Voedingsmiddelen Industrie, a Dutch food business magazine, asked this question: What does the U.S. election of either Obama or McCain mean for food and health policy? Here’s what I told him in English:

If it is McCain, it is business as usual or – impossible as it may be to imagine – worse. If Obama is elected, things could get better. The decision to vote for Obama may be a matter of the triumph of hope over experience, but everyone I know who cares deeply about social issues wants him to win, and by a huge margin. I do too.

The history of American politics teaches that once elected, candidates do not necessarily keep campaign promises so let’s not deal with the details. Both candidates have issued vague health care proposals and neither seems willing to take on insurance companies and demand what experts believe is absolutely necessary to fix the system: develop a single-payer health care program with universal coverage. If McCain is elected, we have no reason to expect improvement. If Obama wins, we can hope that he will use his mandate to push through a single-payer system.

As for food policy, the big question is who is appointed to lead the USDA. Historically, the USDA has promoted the interests of agribusiness. It still does, but the agency is now also responsible for everything connected to food policy: farm subsidies, land use, organic standards, international food trade, food assistance to low-income families, and dietary advice to the public. If McCain is elected, expect to see another USDA Secretary who represents agribusiness. I do not know who is advising Obama about agricultural issues (he has not asked me, alas), but let’s hope his advisers have a broad view of food and nutrition policy that includes social concerns about food security and food equity. Maybe we will get lucky. Let’s hope for fair weather and a huge voter turnout. Every vote counts, and—according to this video—mine is especially valued (and yours too!).

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  • greg

    here is obama’s rural farm / food policy:
    Strong Safety Net for Family Farmers: Obama and Biden will fight for farm programs that provide family farmers with stability and predictability. Obama will implement a $250,000 payment limitation so that we help family farmers – not large corporate agribusiness. Obama will close the loopholes that allow mega farms to get around the limits by subdividing their operations into multiple paper corporations. Prevent Anticompetitive Behavior Against Family Farms: Obama is a strong supporter of a packer ban. When meatpackers own livestock they can manipulate prices and discriminate against independent farmers. Obama will strengthen anti-monopoly laws and strengthen producer protections to ensure independent farmers have fair access to markets, control over their production decisions, and fair prices for their goods. Regulate CAFOs: Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency will strictly regulate pollution from large CAFOs, with fines for those that violate tough standards. Obama also supports meaningful local control.
    Establish Country of Origin Labeling: Obama supports immediate implementation of the Country of Origin Labeling law so that Americans can distinguish American products from imported ones. Support Organic and Local Agriculture: Obama and Biden will help organic farmers afford to certify their crops and reform crop insurance to not penalize organic farmers. He also will promote regional food systems. Encourage Young People to Become Farmers: Obama and Biden will establish a new program to identify and train the next generation of farmers. They will also provide tax incentives to make it easier for new farmers to afford their first farm. Partner with Landowners to Conserve Private Lands: Obama and Biden will increase incentives for farmers
    and private landowners to conduct sustainable agriculture and protect wetlands, grasslands, and forests.

    also i heard on a recent radio interview with michael pollan that obama’s transition team had contacted him about possibly being involved in the obama administration. pollan didnt elaborate obviously, but its a good sign.

  • Steve

    Philpott on Grist has a useful comparison.

  • Tilin Corgi

    as a humane california dog — yes, i’m a pet who eats only humanely-farmed “food animals” — i hope california humans vote with their forks: CALIF. NEEDS TO VOTE YES & PASS PROP 2, the ballot initiative to set HUMANE STANDARDS for confining farm animals.

    without HUMANE STANDARDS, what good does it do to worry about who’s at the helm of the usda? the usda will continue to suppawt big agribusiness for the foreseeable future, and will not mandate humane standards and many other needed farm pawlicies at the state level. we pets & people need to support humane treatment of animals AND humane farmers right now!

  • Rick Tannenbaum

    I think the real issue is: Will Obama take a stand against industry writing consumer protection legislation?

    Industry has written the LEAN Act, a federal statute that would gut state and local laws governing calorie disclosure on menus and menu boards in chain and fast food restaurants. Essentially, restaurants could get away with posting calorie counts in places where consumers will not see them, and trump any state law requiring the actual posting on menu boards. The MEAL Act (also pending but opposed by industry) would be much tougher on industry and preserve local laws.

    Another example is the industry coalition behind the “Smart Choice” icon program. This is an industry attempt to control front-of-package food labels so that the FDA does not step into the fray and make actual comparisons of foods as the UK does. Again, foxes guarding henhouses. It has an inherent funding stream conflict of interest and will never have consumer support.

    These things make great PR for food companies, but they don’t actually do anything for consumer protection. Hopefully Obama will make executive appointments that understand these issues.

    At least, we can hope. Yes, we can.

    Rick Tannenbaum