Vote with your Stomach
In advance of the Super Tuesday primaries, a closer look at the 5 leading candidates and their thoughts on Food and Agriculture issues.
Agriculture represents the intersection of a huge range of issues, from biosecurity and the environment to immigration and farm subsidies. Despite our democratic process kicking off in a rural state, it’s not always easy to know where the candidates stand on important food and agriculture issues. So if you are interested in voting with (or on behalf of) your stomach, here’s what you’ll need to wash it down.
Donald is tough to nail down in any of these categories, because he has no political record and often contradicts himself. Though he hasn’t ever spoken specifically on food system issues (as his comments would indicate that he doesn’t believe there are any), he has spoken out against social security and “food stamps” (SNAP, the name of the actual program), and believes it should be more limited.
Though Donald has announced his support for ethanol, he has not made statements on any kind of rural or agricultural policies. He opposes the TPP and (seemingly all) US trade agreements, though not on principle, he simply believes they could be better negotiated in our favor. He is staunchly opposed to immigration or any kind of path to citizenship for undocumented people, leading to a survey of California farmers by Politico concluding that “Trump is ‘terrible for agriculture’.” His campaign declined to comment on this piece.
According to ontheissues.org, “prioritization of green energy” is one of the issues that Donald strongly opposes. He believes climate change is a hoax, and that funding for the EPA should be completely eliminated. Donald believes that oil is the “life blood of America”, though he has (mystically) announced his support for ethanol and has even gone so far as to call out Ted Cruz on his lack of support.
Rubio has not had a lot to say directly on food system issues so far, though his actions speak for themselves. He has voted for policies that fail to restrict or even encourages sugar subsidies, and even conservative commentators have noted that “Rubio’s sugar support doesn’t match his conservative credentials.” Marco’s past, particularly in Florida, has meant he has been deeply supportive of Big Food throughout his career and we should expect to see more of that if he makes it to the White House. Though he doesn’t oppose social security, his platform would require scaling back programs like SNAP.
Marco has an aggressive plan to attract farmers that includes; repealing regulations like Waters of the US and curbing future regulation, repealing the “death tax” and creating a more favorable business environment for farmers, and opposing cap-and-trade. Rubio does not support trade with Cuba, but he is in favor of trade deals in general, and believes strongly in advancing US trade opportunities, and has spoken favorably about TPP. Rubio is by far the best of the three republican candidates on supporting immigration and a path to citizenship, so for farmers looking for a farm labor ally, Rubio is the candidate.
Rubio believes that climate change, though real, is not a result of human activities. He hopes to repeal the Obama administrations efforts to limit carbon emissions, fight cap-and-trade and prevent carbon taxes, and reduce use of the Endangered Species Act. Rubio is a strong supporter of (and receives support from) Big Oil.
Ted Cruz’s anti-agriculture position puts him firmly (if unintentionally) in the pro-New Food System camp. He has opposed subsidies for sugar, voted against the Renewable Food Standard for ethanol, and to eliminate a crop insurance program that supported commodity crops. More than any other republican candidate, Ted Cruz has taken a firm stance against Big Food. Though he has also been firmly opposed to the Farm Bill, both because he doesn’t believe in the expansion of SNAP and because he doesn’t believe in the subsidization of big agribusiness.
Ted Cruz has been dubbed the “anti-farmer” candidate by the American Sugar Alliance, more or less for all the reasons sighted above. He is in favor of walking back all subsidization in the agricultural sector including crop insurance programs.
Cruz is a true climate-denier, and has even sighted the possibility of “global cooling”. He continues to support the oil industry and is actively opposed to any kind of cap-and-trade solution.
Clinton, in the most advanced food and agriculture platform proposed by any of the candidates from either party, describes massive funding increases to new farmer and local food initiatives, and wants to make big steps towards making more fresh food available under the SNAP program. Hillary has big plans for advancing the government role in the food system, and if you’re in favor of radically progressive National Food Policy, she is likely your closest bet. It’s worth mentioning that Hillary has some close ties to Monsanto through both the Clinton Foundation and her team.
Endorsed by Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Hillary has an extensive plan to support the ag world. Her proposal includes beefing up the Rural Business Investment Companies (RBIC) program to support rural entrepreneurs and local businesses, and she hopes to create a national program to boost rural transportation, broadband and water services. Though her plans don’t do much to directly stand up to big agribusiness, she supports crop insurance programs and targeted subsidies and has vowed to fight for meaningful immigration reform particularly. She also hopes to add programs addressing rural substance abuse to the agenda (which very in line with Sec. Vilsack and the USDA’s new program announced today).
Much of Clinton’s rural and agricultural plans revolve around clean energy, focusing on ramping up government investment in solar and wind power as well as biofuels. Collaborative environmental stewardship is also a big part of Hillary’s platform, and she’s proposed policies that would give farmers financial incentives to pursue sustainable management practices.
Bernie definitely talks the food talk. He describes the need to support “family farms not factory farms” and to grow local food systems, though his plans are a bit vague and mostly negative, involving destabilizing the existing food system rather than proactively supporting the emergence of a new one. In his time as a Senator he was always a staunch advocate of the food insecure and local food systems, and has spoken out about food issues including obesity. In Vermont, Bernie supported the first GMO labeling initiative.
Bernie’s plan to improve the rural economy is heavy on facts but light on solutions. Broadly, he promises to fight for small- and mid-sized farms, by supporting local food initiatives, reversing NAFTA, and enforcing anti-trust laws against large agribusiness and food corporations. He has a long history of standing up to big agribusiness, specifically Monsanto. For rural communities, Bernie discusses improving rural electric grids and improve broadband access as well as renewing the focus on safe and efficient dams and levees.
Bernie has plans similar to Hillary’s to transform much of rural America from food production to energy production, focusing on solar, wind, and biofuels.
If you’re looking for a republican who’s supporting a stronger food system (I can’t believe I’m saying this) but Ted Cruz is your guy. Rubio has proven to be deeply beholden to Big Food, and Trump has no real position at all. Both the democratic candidates have strong food policies, though Bernie edges to the top with his proactive plans and strong legacy.
The clear Republican winner for farmers is Rubio. His support of rural economies and farmers is hand and fist above Trump and Cruz. Clinton and Sanders both have strong agricultural policy goals, though Hillary’s is more robust and well thought out, whereas Bernie’s plans are more adversarial and less specifically supportive of rural communities.
None of the Republican candidates believe that humans are significant contributors to climate change, so I refuse to call any of them winners. Bernie and Hillary both have sustainability and clean energy goals, but both of them support a biofuel energy system that is questionably sustainable. We’ll call it a tie on the democratic side.