October 8, 2012

Where Was Agriculture in the Presidential Debate?

Robert Martin

Robert Martin

Director of Food System Policy

Center for a Livable Future

Who here eats food?

Question: What domestic issue is essential to the health and well-being of every American, generates $369 billion in goods in the U.S. economy, employs 21 million people, can improve the environment, contributes $108 billion to the positive side of U.S. trade, and is an essential part of the economy of the major swing states in the general election in November—but received zero attention in the first presidential debate last week?

Answer: Agriculture policy and the failure of the Congress to pass a farm bill to replace one that has already expired.

Are we going to address the farm bill question?

Even though the topic of the first 2012 general election presidential debate was domestic policy, agriculture and food policy were not mentioned directly but only peripherally when biofuels, nutrition assistance, and the system of land grant colleges were mentioned. But you would have to know that biofuels can be agricultural products, that nutrition assistance programs were part of the United States Department of Agriculture, and that the land grant system was established to help farmers. Not every American is aware of that.

Ignoring agriculture and food policy in presidential debates is nothing new. Fewer and fewer people are actively, directly engaged in producing our food and fiber even though a significant number of people are involved in processing, marketing, and distribution, and everyone eats. But once a candidate gets past the Iowa caucuses, little attention is given to ag and food policy and rural communities, which is a mistake.

The availability of food is essential to life. How we produce our food can dramatically affect our health and the environment. And the Arab Spring has shown us what can happen when food becomes scarce.


One Comment

  1. Posted by James Coffman

    As usual, even the “smart” folks get confused over the chicken or egg conundrum. Arab Spring wasn’t over food shortages, it was about inflation and the peoples’ inability to afford the cost of the food, a scenario which I would suggest is fast arriving upon our oil dependent super market shelves. As usual the currency manipulations of the IMF/central banks and their debilitating impact on creating exponential inflation is constantly ignored, misdirecting attention to the symptom rather than the disease. Couple this with the U.S. bi-partisan foreign policy of bribes or bullets (let our GMO, subsidized, junk food in or else), and we simultaneously manage to destroy the ability of indigenous farmers to even manage self sufficiency, much less a surplus to feed their neighbors. The previously predominant small Mexican farms are experiencing this as we speak. Thanks to the dumping of U.S. corn, and a gov’t run by agri-business political influence, the food security that Mexico’s diversity of crops once afforded has also become a recent casualty. Why would anyone ever expect a gov’t that dances to the tune of those that have bought and paid for it to act any way different? I would’ve expected a slightly more insightful commentary from one with a 30 year back ground in said gov’t policy, or does that just add support to my position?

    Why are these policy realities not the focus of groups like the CLF? Proving and re-proving that sustainable agriculture works is a rather redundant and distracting exercise of fiddling whilst Rome burns. Time and time again it has been shown that sustainable methods are capable of out producing quantity and quality without the benefit of any farm welfare (subsidies), so why the continuing effort to ignore the truth? As always… just follow the money I suppose.

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