Last week I focused in this column on what I consider to be ten important federal food-policy issues the presidential candidates should be discussing but have ignored until now. My list includes ending the FDA's campaign against raw milk, the need for widespread reform of the USDA, a call to loosen restrictions on adults' use of alcohol, acknowledging the importance of food freedom, and more.
As I noted last week, my goal for this week's follow-up column would be to go beyond my own ideas by presenting one idea each from 10 leading food scholars, attorneys, authors, advocates, and others about important food-policy issues they'd like to see discussed in the presidential campaign and implemented in the future.
In short, what do others whose ideas I respect believe are key food-policy issues?
At least some of the names among the 10 respondents on the list below will be familiar to regular readers of Reason (Walter Olson, Joel Salatin). Others, though, represent important organizations, constituencies, and ideas you may not yet have come into contact with in these pages.
One strand I think you'll find running through the responses of this diverse group of experts below is that our nation's food policies cannot and should not continue to consist of a combination of high subsidies and tight regulations that, in tandem, promote the primacy of some food choices over others.
1. Don Carr
Last year taxpayers gave crop insurance subsidies of at least $1 million apiece to 26 highly profitable mega-farms. U.S. crop insurance subsidies encourage farmers to make risky planting and land use decisions that wind up polluting our water with fertilizers and pesticides and causing valuable soil to blow away. And since field run-off is unregulated at the federal level, our current tools in fighting this pollution are limited.
If Americans believe that clean water and healthy soil are critical to our future, then it’s only logical to limit taxpayer support to activities that undermine them. We should also ask crop insurance subsidy recipients to engage in minimal conservation measures in exchange for a safety net that no other business enjoys.
Don Carr is a senior advisor with the Environmental Working Group.
2. Jason Foscolo
In general, I would like to see the candidates address the disproportionate effect regulation has on small agricultural businesses. My favorite example of this has to be the USDA’s label pre-approval requirements for breed-specific marketing claims for meat. Farmers looking to market a niche-breed of livestock have to substantiate their label claims before they can legally market their products as, say, “Berkshire” or “Angus.” This rule creates a real advantage for large producers at the expense of innovators. Oscar Meyer has zero need for breed-marketing strategies, but smaller producers need any hook they can get to grab their customer.
Jason Foscolo is an agricultural and food law attorney who represents artisan food producers and farmers in New York and elsewhere.
3. Pete Kennedy
The most important policy reform at the federal level would be to start repealing provisions of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). FDA regulates eighty percent of the food supply in the U.S.; implementing the FSMA will burden many producers who will not be able to afford the cost of compliance. The FSMA emphasizes process (e.g., requirements such as hazard analysis and critical control points, HACCP plans) rather than results (e.g., a clean plant). FDA will be able to charge reinspection fees so they will have significant incentive to find violations. Further, the FSMA gives FDA more power to regulate interstate commerce in violation of the tenth amendment as well as subjecting their enforcement actions to less judicial scrutiny. Provisions like the ones on reinspection fees and administrative detention (i.e., detaining food without court order if FDA merely has “reason to believe” [it] is adulterated or misbranded) are good places to start the overhaul.
Pete Kennedy is president of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund.