Farm and food issues during an election year

While the Faith, Food & the Environment project awaits the promised reflection on the Vocation of the Agricultural Leader (see previous post), I will use this Updates page to pass along other items of interest.

One of these is a Feb. 17 article by Tom Philpott, food & ag correspondent for Mother Jones, who would like to ask the U.S. Presidential candidates a few questions about food and farming. See the full article here.

Philpott points out that the candidates are largely ignoring food and farm policy in their stump speeches. Regardless of party affiliation, even for those who are stretching the conventional boundaries of Republican or Democrat, no one is raising concern about this essential sector of the economy – agriculture – and the impacts on soil and water resources and consequences to public health.

As Philpott frames it, this lack of attention by presidential candidates means ignoring the “slow-motion ecological crises (that) haunt the country’s main farming regions.” And he notes that “diet-related maladies generate massive burdens on the U.S. health care system.”

If Philpott had the opportunity to be a debate moderator or a reporter on the trail, here is the simplified list questions he would ask them (see link above for complete questions):

— In the U.S. Corn Belt, this region of the country is losing the very resource that makes bountiful production possible: topsoil is disappearing much faster than the natural replacement rate—a trend that will worsen as climate change proceeds.

As president, how would you push farm policy to reward soil- and water-friendly farming practices in the heartland?

— Drought persists in California—the source of many vegetables, fruits and nuts for the U.S., plus a fifth of milk production.

How would your administration respond to California’s declining water resources in the context of its central position in our food system?

— According to the USDA,  about 70 percent of workers on U.S. crop fields come from Mexico or Central America, and more than 40 percent of them are undocumented. Median hourly wage: $9.17. The meatpacking industry also relies heavily on immigrants—and pays an average wage of $12.50 per hour.

How would you act to improve wages and working conditions for the people who feed us?

— For decades, anti-trust authorities have watched idly as huge food companies gobble each other up, grabbing ever-larger shares of food and agriculture markets. President Obama initiated serious investigations of these highly consolidated industries, responding to farmers’ complaints of uncompetitive markets. However, these efforts have gone by the wayside.

How would your Department of Justice look at consolidation in ag markets—and would you consider anti-trust action to break them up?

— According to a 2013 report from the Union of Concerned Scientists, annual US medical expenses from treating heart disease and stroke stood at $94 billion in 2010—and were expected to nearly triple by 2030, driven largely by diets dominated by hyper-processed food.

What’s the proper federal role for convincing people to eat healthier—especially people of limited means?

Philpott ended his piece with a hat tip to Food Tank, which asks additional questions about food policy – and wanting presidential candidates to respond.

Our Faith, Food & the Environment project is designed to engage agricultural leaders in addressing many of these same concerns. Whether they can be heard amidst the many voices of this year’s presidential elections is unlikely, but we will earnestly strive to be heard when the transition to a new U.S. Administration begins. And we will continue when Congress begins their new session early next year.