Election 2016

Election Focus on Food Policy Is Lacking

As the presidential race drags into the home stretch, food issues don't even rate as a blip on the polls.


Mihocphoto / Dreamstime.com

As the presidential race drags into the home stretch, food law and policy issues—to my dismay—are polling about as well as is Gary Johnson.

Why don't these issues loom larger? I think three key factors are in play.

First, polls show most voters don't care much about food and agricultural issues. A Pew poll taken over the summer found that voters didn't identify food and agricultural issues as one of their top priorities in this election.

Second, donations from the food sector to presidential candidates sometimes lag compared to other sectors. That's not to say that the agricultural sector doesn't support candidates. They just appear more likely to pump money into state races. For example, a recent Associated Press investigation found that the sugar industry in Florida donated nearly $60 million to state and local political campaigns between 1994 and 2016.

Third, points one and two appear to have been reflected in the words of the candidates themselves—or, rather, in the lack thereof—about food and agricultural issues during the election.

Still, none of this is to say that money from agricultural interests hasn't made its way into the presidential election. Last month, Mother Jones columnist Tom Philpott published an interesting piece on agricultural-sector donations to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Philpott, using data from the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP), notes that Clinton leads Trump by a roughly 2-1 margin in donations, and refers to Clinton as "the race's chief agribusiness cash magnet."

Clinton has most definitely pulled in more donations from the agribusiness sector than has Trump. But, as I noted in an NPR Marketplace/BBC Radio interview that aired yesterday, the numbers don't shake out so much in Clinton's favor on closer inspection.

(A few words on CRP's methodology: First, CRP's sector data includes donations from large and small companies, trade unions and associations, and their employees. Second, CRP's definition of "agribusiness" is a bit squishy. Merriam-Webster defines "agribusiness" as "the business or industry of farming or agriculture[.]" Grocers—for example—don't meet that definition. Yet CRP includes them in their agribusiness sector just the same.)

The "cash magnet" remark is a bit of an overstatement. Agribusiness donations are a tiny percentage of the overall amounts raised by Clinton and Trump. Agribusiness donations to Clinton and outside groups supporting her to date total around $1.7 million. By contrast, CRP data show that plumbers unions have donated more than $2.5 million to her campaign and outside groups supporting her. And while Trump has raised $1 million in agribusiness donations, he received that same amount from one small casino in Southern California.

The recent narrative is that large organic and biotech food companies love Clinton. But so-called agribusiness doesn't really love either Clinton or Trump. For example, Whole Foods, the third biggest organic donor to Clinton, gave less than $12,000. The bigger picture is that former candidates Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, and Mike Huckabee each raised more from so-called agribusiness interests than have Clinton and Trump. In fact, if you were to add up Clinton and Trump agribusiness donations and multiply them by two, they'd still fall nearly a million dollars short of agricultural sector donations to Marco Rubio.

Among those who are donating, what are some factors that might be influencing where they direct their dollars?

Immigration—which impacts food and agriculture—is one big issue. Trump has promised to deport many of the people who grow and cook our food (or their families, or both). This would have a tremendously negative impact on America's food production and preparation. As Politico reported earlier this year, many farmers fear that "Trump's positions jeopardize their livelihoods—and the nation's access to fresh fruit and vegetables." Forcing millions of taxpaying, experienced laborers to leave a workforce that's already struggling to fill jobs would hurt America's ability to feed itself.

Second, planning for a 2018 Farm Bill is well underway. Many large agricultural groups are terrified about the prospect of Congress forcing farm subsidies and similar programs to stand on their own (without SNAP benefits) because they know, as the American Farm Bureau Federation puts it, that if "we split nutrition and farm programs apart, we simply don't have the votes [in Congress] to pass an adequate farm bill with a good safety net." Clinton is a longstanding supporter of the Farm Bill status quo. Trump, on the other hand, is an unknown.

That unknown element extends beyond the Farm Bill to the country's general agribusiness climate. The current USDA under Secretary Tom Vilsack (who Clinton considered as her vice presidential running mate, and who's advising her on agricultural policy) has been cozy with agribusiness. And even though the beef industry has generally leaned Trump's way, as Philpott's data show, an industry insider predicted months ago that "a Hillary Clinton presidency promises essentially a continuation of the Obama administration policies relative to agriculture." That same insider suggested a Trump presidency would give rise to "some radical departures" for agricultural policy, though he wasn't quite clear what that meant.

Americans are rightly concerned about our presidential candidates. Someday soon, I hope, they'll apply that same degree of concern our many awful food and agricultural policies.

NEXT: The Collectivist Election

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  1. Poor Baylen, as his area of expertise is being drowned out by the shitstorm that is the 2016 election.

    Have you thought of writing a book on the subject?

    1. I think every staff member has to put out a book every few years, or they’re out.

      1. Publish or perish.

        1. Fire up the w___c_____r!

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          1. wildcatter?



            1. Worchestershester

      2. (I actually made that up – but if it’s true I was correct by pure accident)

  2. It’s got nothing to do with the importance of food policy and everything to do with an over-expansive coercive government.

    We get one vote to stand for everything — food policy, wars, collectivism, trade policy, bigotry, everything. People aren’t stupid. They don’t give a rat’s ass about specific policies because all policies are all jumbled together in one single package. The only thing worth judging any candidate on is their personality, trying to guess how they will handle things in general.

    Imagine all your shopping was done at one single store, and you only had one choice for deodorant, peanut butter, pants, car, house — everything. And once every four years, you got to vote for who would run that store and choose those single brands and style. Would you base your entire vote on the peanut butter choice? Or would you try to fathom the candidate’s general tastes? Or would you just pick the guy who seemed least offensive?

    The only real solution is the ultimate decentralized democracy — anarchy even unto the foreign policy level. Why should the government choose which countries “we” have diplomatic relations with, or who “we” trade with? Why should not people themselves choose that by their individual personal actions?

    1. I concur with this opinion with the exception of the final paragraph.

      1. And with this clarification: Sometimes the would-be manager of the collective store has such an evil idea as to make them presumptively unqualified for the post. For example (and this is purely hypothetical), if one candidate promised to make poisons available in the pharmacy with the specific purpose of allowing mothers to kill their children, this would be such a major turn-off that I’d probably go for one of the other candidates.

      2. Why? Which particular sentiment? Why not get rid of embassies, treaties, all that monopolistic foreign policy, and leave it to individual people to figure out foreign aid? Foreigners would be under much greater and more realistic pressure to behave decently instead of pretending to be, say, anti-communist or anti-ISIS, while repressing their own population. There would be no more military assistance to Saudi Arabia or Nicaraguan dictators, no more RESET nonsense with Putin.

        Whatever you think about having a central government military, if it’s for true defense only, then there is no need for any single government foreign policy.

        Or to put it the other way round, the only purpose of a single government-mandated foreign policy it to support offensive foreign relations.

        1. I’d say in general that we should be at peace with all countries and trade with them freely, and that the only exceptions would be if some other country (or quasi-state organization) wants to declare war on us or restrict our trade our our citizens’ rights. In these cases, it would be time for the central govt to get off its ass and act to protect the people.

          So if, say, Upper Insaneistan wants to kill American citizens or arbitrarily lock them up, then is the time to ask the Upper Insaneistan govt to stop and, if they don’t, for Congress to consider a declaration of war.

          Or in case of trade barriers, Congress might consider retaliatory restrictions.

          1. Trade is the easiest problem to dispose of. Trade treaties are worthless; a country can improve its trade by dropping restrictions unilaterally. Suppose China restricts imports from us. They would be fools to think they can continue to export to us, because they will collect dollars from us and have no way to spend them. On the other hand, if the restrict exports to us, there is nothing we can do to force them to send us more, but at the same time, they will be unable to sell us stuff to earn dollars with which to buy stuff from us. As Don Boudreaux says, exports is the price we pay to be able to buy imports, just as work is the price we pay in order to buy smart phones, cars, houses, and everything else we want.

          2. On to other countries abusing our citizens. I suppose one example you may have been thinking of was when Iran kidnapped three American tourists who were in Iraq near that border. The only reason Iran did this was because they were tweaking Uncle Sam’s nose and wanted a reaction so they could bolster domestic propaganda. It’s the same reason Castro was happy for the US trade embargo and attempted Castro assassinations. If people of any nation are so stupid or danger-seeking as to go to FuckAGoatIstan, why should anyone else here have taxes stolen to rescue their sorry ass? Let them buy insurance. Let their family and friends and political supporters raise the money and hire mercenaries or pay the ransom.

            If a California tourist is robbed in New Yrok, do you expect the American taxpayer to bail him out? I sure don’t; if they need to beg money to get home, there are plenty of places to start.

            If a New York tourist is robbed in Paris, is that any different? Why should my taxes be used to pay their hotel bill and fly them home?

            If a New York tourist is killed by ISIS terrorists in Paris, or New York, or FuckAGoatIstan for that matter, why is that any different?

            Insurance is a fantastic way to spread these risks. Insurance against getting robbed in Paris is probably a lot cheaper than in the southern Philippines, and if tourists don’t want to pay attention, that isn’t my problem.

          3. Now suppose some other country declares war on us. That hasn’t happened for years, and there are a lot of good arguments that it only happened because we had a government sticking its nose into other countries’ business. I won’t go into how our racism and imperialism encouraged the Japanese to up their own racist imperialist game, or how WW I would have been just a repeat of the 1870 Franco-Prussian war if not for first Britain, then the US taking sides, and how all that led to WW II in Europe. Or look at how Britain’s illegal blockade of Germany in WW I hurt our trade with Germany and pushed us into taking sides for no reason having anything to do with our national interests.

            Go back further, see how the 1898 war with Spain contributed to WW II in the Pacific. Look at the several wars we started with Mexico to steal land.

            So who exactly is going to declare war on us? That’s a pipe dream fantasy. It simply isn’t going to happen. The USSR never would have, Russia won’t, China won’t, and as for those pipsqueak Al Qaeda and ISIS terrorists, their actions and hatred for us are a direct result of us sticking our noses into their countries. The only reason we pushed Saddam out of Kuwait was so Bush could help his friends the Saudis; Saddam was a much nicer dictator than the Saudis, and supposedly our friend when he tangled with Iran; we even sold him the chemical weapons he used so much.

          4. As for actually fighting ISIS and Al Qaeda, it’s enlightening to think a bit about why they haven’t carried out anything since 9-11. A shoe bomber? An underwear bomber? Think what it means if that si the best they can come up with. It goes right along with the four 9-11 hijack leaders lying to the other 15 jihadis that it was a normal hijacking, not a suicide mission. If they had to lie to their own stooges, if they haven’t been able to mount a mission since, it can only mean they are not able to recruit any volunteers for their jihad.

            If spineless worthless impotent enemies like that is the worst enemies we have, if that is the only enemies who want to declare war on us, officially or by act, then we have nothing to fear but coercive government itself.

          5. Or maybe you point to genocide in Rwanda and say the government must step in, or there’s earthquakes and hurricanes around the world where we provide emergency help and supplies.

            It’s excatly the same as domestic charity. What gives a few self-selected elites the authority to steal money from me to solve their pet problems? If they don’t have the moral authority to direct my domestic charity (and they don’t), they don’t have it overseas either.

            And of course these elites didn’t prevent genocide in Rwanda, did they?

            I red somewhere that the largest embassy we have anywhere, with the most staff, is in Paris. That alone ought to tell you something about how properly our foreign affairs are conducted, and who really benefits — the self-same self-selected elites.

    2. But I only really love Adams brand peanut butter. That’s what everyone else should use and it should be the only option!

  3. Of course farm subsidies and food policy aren’t on the menu. That’s boring. Why just yesterday on the local NPR affiliate, a caller decided to opine on a politics talk show that the two major candidates for state governor are “boring” and that she hadn’the made up her mind about which of the two “middle aged white men” (they are both in their late 30s and early 40s, so yeah, middle aged in the most literal interpretation of that term I guess). When pressed, of course she defaulted to “probably” the Democrat.

    How surprising, this person is looking for some novelty to thrill her rather than focus on stability and wise fiscal policy. For the good things that universal suffer age brings, you get dogshit like this.

  4. I thought everything was great in that corner.
    Michelle watered the food deserts.

      1. Not into water sports either huh?

  5. “Election Focus on Food Policy Is Lacking”

    What are you talking about? There’s been plenty of focus on food policy in this election.

  6. Food & ag isn’t a big issue of public controversy right now, because when you compare the worst & best credible scenarios on policies related to them, and then compare the worst & best credible scenarios on policies related to other things, the stakes are much bigger on a great many other issues. Sure, worst imaginable case related to food?total starv’n? would be the worst thing ever, but that’s not credible. Meanwhile there are major life-or-death scenarios playing out w.r.t. health care & foreign policy.

  7. Like yeah. Maybe this election will end in a gigantic banana cream pie fight, and then food will be #1 on the agenda then.

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  9. Actually, food policies are on the radar – less regulation and decreased government funding. Agribusiness is your enemy? Obviously, Reason needs a new Food Policy writer (and certainly someone less lazy than BL) – GOVERNMENT regulation is the enemy.

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