Food Policy

Ringing Out What's Old—and Ringing In What's New—in Food Policy

Food policy cognoscenti discuss the top issues of 2015 and predict what might happen in 2016.

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Credit: t-mizo / photo on flickr

Tis the season for lists. In my last column of 2014, I dug through my year of online Reason columns to find many had focused on issues like mandatory GMO labeling, food waste, 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.

Common column topics for me this year included food safety, federal dietary guidelines, alcohol regulations, food and beverage taxes, GMOs, the Supreme Court, and the spread of food freedom.

In that same column last year, I asked a handful of food-policy wonks to comment on what each saw as the year's top food story, and to predict what story might dominate in 2015. You can check out their responses here.

This year, I've asked the same questions of some of the same people—along with a couple new ones. Thanks to Pete Kennedy from the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, Walter Olson from the Cato Institute, Michele Simon from Eat Drink Politics, and Jeff Stier from the National Center for Public Policy Research for sharing their comments (unedited but for the addition of the occasional explanatory hyperlink) below.

Pete Kennedy

1) What do you think was the top food-policy story in 2015?

2015: A Tale of Two Levels of Government—at the federal level, an acceleration of the industrial food system's agenda through efforts to pass TPP, TTIP, the Dark Act, and the repeal of the COOL law; state level of government much more friendly to local food—Wyoming passes the Food Freedom Act, half a dozen states pass laws increasing access to raw milk. 

2) What do you anticipate might be a top food-policy story in 2016?

2016: More becoming weary of government attempts to protect people from themselves, stronger push to establish freedom of food choice as a fundamental right.

Walter Olson

1) What do you think was the top food-policy story in 2015?

The troubles at Chipotle (whose food I like and buy, despite its dumb anti-GMO stance) brought home two points: local and handmade and every other good thing bring real tradeoffs, and food hazards aren't just the result of moral laxity fixable by replacing "them" with educated idealists like "us." 

2) What do you anticipate might be a top food-policy story in 2016?

Next year I predict the momentum for "food policy" will visibly slow. While Mark Bittman may propose carding teenagers who try to buy a soda, voters loathe such ideas and politicians now know that. So keep the goal of eating well, drop the preachiness, paternalism and business-bashing.

Michele Simon

1) What do you think was the top food-policy story in 2015?

Without a doubt the uproar caused by the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee considering sustainability, and the subsequent caving in to the meat industry by the Obama Administration.

2) What do you anticipate might be a top food-policy story in 2016?

Well, selfishly I would like to predict that the big plans I have for 2016 will take that honor.

Jeff Stier

1) What do you think was the top food-policy story in 2015?

2015 was a year of further polarization on food policy. Consider the fight over Dietary Guidelines, where Congress echoed questions about the "scientific integrity of the process" used to develop basic nutrition advice. The WHO's farcical declaration that processed meats are carcinogens further eroded confidence in "public health's" food advice. 

2) What do you anticipate might be a top food-policy story in 2016?

I'm afraid I've exhausted all my imagination for the year, so I don't have anything useful to add for 2016 predictions.

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As for my own assessment of 2015, I think the well-earned defeat of California's foie gras ban in federal court in January 2015 may be the year's top story. While an important story in its own right, the court's decision could impact similarly unconstitutional laws in California and beyond—some of which are already being challenged—that govern everything from sharks to eggs to pigs. Honorable mentions for story of the year, in my opinion, include the publication of a pair of key, costly, and flaccid Food Safety Modernization Act rules, the excellent First Amendment food lawsuits I focused on in my column last week, and the aforementioned flawed federal dietary guidelines.

Looking ahead to 2016—and taking a cue from Michele Simon and her big plans for 2016—I'm happy to report that I recently finished writing my first book, which focuses on ways that some federal, state, and local laws promote unsustainable food practices, while others prevent people from engaging in more sustainable food practices. The book is expected to be published in fall 2016.