Last (and Next) Year in Food Policy

A handful of food policy cognoscenti discuss the top food policy issues of 2014 and predict what might happen in 2015.



Supporters of food freedom had a number of reasons to be happy in 2014. The defeat of GMO-labeling ballot measures and the repeal of a California law that required chefs to wear gloves are but two examples.

They also had a good number of reasons to pine for the year's end. A renewed push in cities around the country to prohibit people from sharing food with the homeless and less fortunate is perhaps the most egregious example.

My own columns in 2014 focused on the good and bad, and discussed a broad range of issues—everything from municipal rules pertaining to food trucks to the possibility of revising federal raw milk laws. I even wrote a column defending Dr. Oz.

But, looking back, I note that my columns here often zeroed in on a handful of key issues that made headlines in 2014—the Farm Bill, soda taxes, alcohol deregulation, California's egg-crate law, a variety of food-related lawsuits, and the controversy over the USDA's misguided school lunch reforms.

What about others? What did they see as the key issues in 2014? And what do they think will be key issues this year?

To answer those questions, I asked a handful of food law and policy cognoscenti—including Reason's Ron Bailey and Elizabeth Nolan Brown—what they thought was the most important food policy story of 2014. For good measure, I also asked them to predict what issue might make headlines this year. Their responses follow.

Jeff Stier, National Center for Public Policy Research

2014's Top Story

In 2014, controversy swirled around the Agriculture and Health and Human Services departments' preparation for congressionally mandated revisions to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

The guidelines, which are not only advisory in nature, but impact a range of federal budgets for everything from military diets to food stamps, are meant to promote a "healthful diet—one that focuses on food and beverages that help achieve and maintain a healthy weight, promote health, and prevent disease."  However in 2014, "sustainability," "immigration," "global climate change," and "agriculture/aquaculture sustainability" were among the items for consideration on the dietary guidelines advisory committee meetings."

What to Look for in 2015

I am not a prognosticator, so I can't claim to know what the food police will dream up for 2015. After all, I'd never have been able to guess that they'd have used global warming to take burgers away from our military, or that immigration policy would taint dietary advice.

Walter Olson, Cato Institute

2014's Top Story

Teens began posting pics of sad, shriveled school meals with the hashtag #ThanksMichelleObama. "Food policy" types had a fit: insolence! ingratitude! But Washington, D.C. noticed: of all the ways to irritate the political class, making fun of them is among their least favorite.

What to Look for in 2015

Have you heard of "Health in All Policies"? It's a buzz-phrase for inserting public health dogma into everything from land use to taxation. Imagine if sticking up for your taste in milkshakes and margaritas meant you had to attend zoning meetings. It might come to that.

Ron Bailey, Reason

2014's Top Story

GMO labeling campaigns continue to strike out, but get ever closer to bamboozling consumers with their anti-scientific disinformation.

What to Look for in 2015

[T]he rise of synthetic biology to grow ingredients and foods utilizing genetically modified bacteria in vats and consuming far less resources, energy and land [such as] vanillin flavoring and cow's milk.

Elizabeth Nolan Brown, Reason

2014's Top Story

Certainly nowhere near the top food policy story of 2014, but one of my favorites was the battle over whether breweries could donate spent grains to local farmers for use as livestock feed. It was a perfect instance of the FDA stepping in to regulate something under the guise of "food safety" when not a single complaint, incident, or scrap of logic warranted it—and in the process almost destroying a mutually beneficial (and cost-saving) situation for farmers and brewers. But it also had a happy ending, with the FDA eventually backing off the asinine new rules.

What to Look for in 2015

In 2015, I expect we're going to see a lot of exciting new things in the way of marijuana edibles, and also a lot more panic and calls for regulation of these edibles.