Contributing Author: Katherine Walla
Ten U.S. Democratic presidential candidates squared off in a debate last night to weigh their plans against others less than 11 weeks before the Iowa caucuses. And with issues like politics, international diplomacy, and healthcare setting the stage for the intense discussions, Food Tank set out to highlight a topic often tackled off stage: visions for a better food and farming future in the next administration.
Food and farming have been higher priority in this campaign season than ever before as candidates realize the important role farmers, rural communities, and the future generation play in providing nutritious food nation-wide. With varied backgrounds, experiences, and priorities, the presidential candidates have proposed initiatives that improve nutrition in schools, support family farmers, protect agricultural competition, and address climate change. And, the candidates are acknowledging that food and agriculture are embedded in some of the most pressing issues facing Americans today like climate change, economic development, immigration, and more.
Food Tank is highlighting the Democratic presidential candidates still in the race and their visions for a brighter future for food and agriculture.
Sen. Bennet has been an outspoken advocate for combating climate change through every sector—including agriculture. The Senator’s proposal, “America’s Climate Change Plan,” calls for a number of measures—including US$1 trillion in federal spending—that spur a transition to clean energy. The plan aims to label 30 percent of the country’s lands and oceans as conservation areas and reduce emissions from the agricultural sector by establishing new programs and federal oversight agencies. And as a member of the Senate agriculture committee, he aims to continue to maintain SNAP, legalize hemp as a commodity crop, and push against President Trump’s trade wars that hurt farmers.
As a Senator, Biden expressed support for family farmers through measures including limiting subsidy payments to big ag, but as Vice President, Biden’s support of expanding commodity subsidies instead of farmer aid programs brought some criticism. In his “Plan for Rural America,” the Former Vice President details revitalizing the national economy by strengthening rural communities and the agricultural sector. The plan details strengthening antitrust patroling of companies supplying agricultural inputs by enforcing laws already in place, doubling the Obama-Biden Administration’s microloans for beginning farmers, and negotiating a trade policy with China that farmers support. The plan also aims to create a net-zero emissions agricultural sector by expanding investment in solar and wind energy and encouraging farmers to participate in carbon markets.
As New Jersey Senator, Booker proposed a merger moratorium for food and agriculture mergers and acquisitions. With the same goals in place for the presidency, Booker’s moratorium would last until Congress can guarantee that antitrust laws account for today’s economic markets and that enforcement mechanisms will improve. Sen. Booker has also been an outspoken advocate for expanded SNAP benefits, especially having spent a week-long challenge living on food stamps in 2012 as Mayor of Newark, NJ and introducing initiatives to increase access to healthy food at New Jersey corner stores. Sen. Booker also unveiled The Climate Stewardship Act this year to engage farmers in climate change mitigation, increase incentives for sustainable farming practices, and investing in urban farms in low-income communities.
Gov. Bullock unveiled the plan “A Fair Shot for Rural America” to revitalize rural communities. The plan requires a two-year pause on proposed mergers in the agricultural supply industry while his administration can reset—and enforce—protections for farmers and consumers. According to Bullock, four companies control 60 percent of the poultry market; four companies control 85 percent of the beef market, and four companies control 52 percent of the hog market; thus, as a president coming from a farm and ranch intensive state, Bullock promises his administration will protect farmers from large, powerful corporations.
Hailing from South Bend, a town that has undergone dramatic economic revitalization according to the Mayor, Buttigieg developed “A Commitment To America’s Heartland” to boost rural communities. Amongst these policies is a plan to support lacking farm labor nationally by setting up a “community renewal” visa for immigrants who commit to live and work in small, rural communities for three years—before becoming eligible for a green card. Mayor Buttigieg also proposed gentle antitrust measures like doubling the government’s budget for enforcement and investigating mergers in seed and chemical industries, breaking them up as appropriate.
Former HUD Secretary Castro is taking on topics with little buzz in the presidential campaign like nutrition in schools and immigration for rural communities. Castro became one of two candidates who’ve proposed universal free meals in schools, regardless of income. The policy will eliminate “lunch shaming”—when schools single out students who cannot pay for their lunch. Former HUD Secretary Castro also issued a call for justice for migrant, seasonal, and domestic farmworkers who face poverty, racism, assault, and deportation—with plans to include farmworkers in labor protections already in place, enforce health and safety regulations, and ensure a minimum wage for all farmworkers.
Rated 95 percent by Food Policy Action, Fmr. Rep. John Delaney has historically supported SNAP and sponsored bills on medical nutrition equity. The presidential candidate’s “Heartland Fair Deal” includes a range of policy measures that aim to keep rural communities right at home—empowering the next generation to resist the pull of city economic opportunities. The policy measures range from economic reform and infrastructure improvement to agricultural support. By re-entering the Trans-Pacific Partnership to expand agricultural markets in Asia, investing in research that may boost agriculture’s resiliency in the face of climate change, and redesigning antitrust regulations to curb concentrations of power, Delaney hopes to reignite the vitality of rural communities. “We need a country where it’s equally likely that a city kid moves to rural America for a job as vice versa,” says Delaney.
Hailing from Hawaii, a state that imports 85 to 90 percent of its food, Congresswoman Gabbard has made food and farming a pillar of her campaign. During her time as a Congresswoman, Gabbard has proposed bills on agricultural research and supported legislation maintaining nutrition assistance and food transparency—Food Policy Action awards Gabbard a rating of 91 percent. Gabbard has made food self-sufficiency one of her priorities, followed by building food aggregation and distribution hubs, permanent facilities for farmers markets, and farm-to-school programs to ensure that farmers have supportive supply and consumer chains. The Gabbard campaign has also made official comments supporting GMO labeling, regenerative agriculture, and banning new factory farms in Iowa.
Sen. Harris’ track record supporting farmworkers, including a bill in February requiring overtime pay for labor and removing exemptions for minimum wage requirements on farms, has garnered praise from organizations like the United Farm Workers union. Sen. Harris supports The Green New Deal, reinstating Farmer Fair Practices Rules to protect family farmers, re-establishing the Grain Inspection, Packers, and Stockyards Administration, and strictly scrutinizing future mergers between large agribusinesses. As an added way to combat climate change, Sen. Harris also supports telling people to eat less meat.
As a member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, Sen. Klobuchar aims to continue advocating for expanded nutrition programs for vulnerable citizens and better commodity support, disaster programs, and federal crop insurance for family farmers. Sen. Klobuchar also supports tougher competition rules, calling upon the government to consider new standards for approving corporate mergers and encouraging agricultural competition. Sen. Klobuchar aims to invest in renewables as applied to agriculture to raise farm incomes and create jobs. With a holistic view of improved farmer welfare, Sen. Klobuchar’s comprehensive planned investments in Rural America ensure that farming communities feel supported with improved healthcare access, student loan forgiveness for farmers, and lower energy costs.
With Former Gov. Patrick’s late entrance into the presidential campaign, his vision and policies are just starting to come to light. Among issues related to food and agriculture, Former Gov. Patrick supports immigration reform, healthcare reform, and investments in education and infrastructure. In the past, Former Gov. Patrick’s focus on environmental justice and pollution cleanup have impacted agricultural industry in Massachusetts.
Sen. Bernie Sanders has stood by unions of food service workers and undocumented laborers to advocate for better wages, treatment, and opportunities. Sen. Sanders’ biggest promises aim to strengthen antitrust laws that protect family farmers in the economic market and reinstate a rule that allows small farmers to take legal action against large agribusiness corporations that abuse them. Sen. Sanders also called for a Green New Deal program, free and universal school lunch for students, GMO labeling, community-supported agriculture, extending SNAP to U.S. territories, and more. Sen. Sanders’ US$16 trillion climate plan—that invests in ecologically regenerative and sustainable family farms—and universal free school meal bill are pillars of the Sanders campaign.
With a wide-ranging agriculture plan that supports initiatives like nutrition assistance, protections for migrant farmworkers, expanding funds for agricultural research on GMOs and agrochemicals, and much more. As President, Former Congressman Sestak would ensure that the Justice Department, Federal Trade Commission, and Department of Agriculture prevent consolidation in agriculture and break up monopolistic businesses; introduce a Right to Repair to mandate that companies make manuals and technology available to the public to repair high-tech agricultural equipment; and improve farm credit, especially for farmers of color. The Former Congressman would also create a National Land Bank to help farmers—even beginning farmers—gain access to land to farm.
Steyer set out to solve two major crises with his administration: reforming the political systems and combating climate change. Steyer pledged to make American agriculture carbon neutral by 2045 by investing US$145 billion in projects that incentivize farmers to adopt climate-safe practices. And in Steyer’s “Partnership with Rural America,” the candidate promised investments of hundreds of billions of dollars for rural support incl;uding infrastructure repair, broadband service. Economic growth, and climate change preparedness initiatives.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren unveiled farm policy in August that aims to address consolidation in the agriculture sector—working to secure economic opportunity and freedom family farmers have in maintaining their businesses. Warren slammed large suppliers for charing farmers huge prices for important inputs and plans to break up major companies in pesticide, seed, and meatpacking industries. Fearing that farmers overproduce commodities to break even, Warren created a policy that calls for limiting government subsidies for industrial agriculture, and instead guarantee a fair price—offered in the form of a non-recourse loan—to farmers who reduce overproduction and protect the environment. Farmers can pay back the loans by selling their goods or by forfeiting some products to government reserves—which when used, can help enhance food security. Warren’s platform also includes an annual US$15 billion encouraging farmers to adopt climate-friendly practices.
While Williamson is a novice to politics, the presidential candidate is familiar with food, agriculture, and health. According to Williamson, her administration would support local, small family farmers using regenerative and sustainable agricultural practices and reversing the trend on climate change. The administration would also end subsidies to large agri-businesses, increase the number of food inspectors in the country, end excessive use of agro-chemicals, expand nutrition programs, more tightly regulate antibiotics and cruelty used in animal agriculture, and much more.
Yang’s platform revolves around his “Freedom Dividend” which calls for the government to give every adult American citizen US$1,000 each month to help them maintain a Universal Basic Income as machines and high-tech take over jobs. Yang argues that this monthly income would improve children’s nutrition in addition to other benefits for mental health, education, and crime rates. Yang has proposed consolidating programs like food stamps, agricultural subsidies, and more to help fund the Universal Basic Income. And with a plan for combating climate change, Yang also supports urging Americans to eat less meat.
18. Michael Bloomberg, Former New York City Mayor; Candidacy Not Confirmed
Although Former NYC Mayor Bloomberg has not yet announced official candidacy, his race has been backed by key investors. In his 12 years as mayor, Bloomberg prioritized food policy including improving access to healthy food, addressing hunger, and expanding urban farming across the city. During the Bloomberg administration, the city also banned the sale of sugar-sweetened beverages in containers larger than 16 ounces, deployed Health Bucks to help multiply a SNAP recipient’s benefits at farmers markets, and Green Carts which brought mobile fruit and vegetable sellers to bodegas and underserved areas.