The Politics of Food

Election Day is over, and we can again be free of those awful, disparaging and disingenuous ads.  The results weren’t surprising in New York, as Cuomo was the frontrunner.  But elsewhere in the country there were some big races and issues to be decided.  Oregon voted to legalize pot (not a shock).  Providence showed promise of being less corrupt by choosing Jorge Elorza as mayor over the criminal and ex-mayor Buddy Cianci.  Pennsylvania also went Democrat and voted out the incumbent governor in favor of Tom Wolf, who’s never held an elected office.  Both candidates were supported by the Obama Administration, and Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move Campaign has been a huge force of trying to fight childhood obesity with seeking change in school physical education programs and as to school lunches.  (Don’t ever doubt my ability to find a way to connect this back to food!)

cropped-img_0787.jpgIn addition to voting for members of Congress, who have a huge impact on food legislation and spending, there were a number of food initiatives on state ballots. Here’s a brief roundup and some food for thought…

Soda Taxes

The People’s Republic of Berkeley, as it’s called, passed a tax on soda that Bloomberg couldn’t accomplish in NYC.  Knowing he couldn’t pass the tax, Bloomberg tried to push through size restrictions, which were dubbed a ban and had a number of loopholes.  This failed because he tried to make law through without going through the legislature.  At least, he got people talking about the issue.  In Berkeley, the tax only required a majority vote, so it had much more ability to get through than in it did in San Francisco, where it also was on the ballot this year.  Unfortunately, SF did not achieve the 2/3 majority needed to pass the tax.  Of note is that the Berkeley tax is on the distributors and not the consumer, so it’s unclear whether this will have an impact on actual soda consumption.  Time will tell.

Farm Bill

A big win for Republicans should signal less spending, especially with 80% of the Farm Bill going to programs like SNAP (fka food stamps).  Iowa, Arkansas, NC and Colorado all went anti-Democrat.  Most notably was Joni Ernst from Iowa, whose ad campaign depicted her on the farm (she grew up on a hog farm).  In Arkansas, Tom Cotton was elected to the Senate, despite his no vote on the Farm Bill as a House Representative.

In Kansas, Republican and potential chair of the Agriculture Committee, Sen. Pat Roberts, who voted against the 2014 Farm Bill, was re-elected.  He’s against farm subsidies (some might argue that farmers don’t need these) and lowering the budget for food stamps (some might argue that this shouldn’t be part of the Farm Bill), and and illegal immigrants (many of whom work on farms).

Lots to consider as to what the next Farm Bill will look like.

GMO Labeling

Some people feel very strongly about not consuming genetically modified organisms, such as corn, and want labels to show if such GMOs are used in the product.  Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods are big proponents of this, and the GMO makers, such as Monsanto and Dow, are against it.  You might be surprised to find that I don’t care much about the labeling of such products, but I care about the practices of companies making the GMOs and the consequences of the GMOs themselves – both on how the ingredients are modified and on the farmers, like those in Hawaii that are dependent on genetically modified crops for their livelihood.  I think it’s important to have educated consumers, which includes knowledge of all impacts of consumption.  I’m not so sure that labels will tell the whole story, and there is not a lot of research to show that GMOs are harmful as a food product.  Others obviously disagree, which is why this was a hot topic on the ballot this election year and in prior years.

California and Washington previously voted down similar initiatives in prior elections. Vermont, however, passed a law requiring GMO labeling, but of course it’s caught up in the courts.

In Colorado, where lobbyists spent millions of dollar fighting against the labeling, the initiative (Prop. 105) did not pass.

Oregon had a similar labeling proposal on the table, but the results are still too close to call.

In Hawaii, it appears that a temporary ban on GMOs in Maui County passed by a very slim margin of just over 1,000 votes.  $8 million was spent by big business, and it wasn’t enough to defeat the ban, which halts the use of GMOs until the government can look into the effects.

What I find striking is that in states that are progressive enough to vote to legalize pot, there would not be a desire to have labels, which causes no harm except potentially to big business.  But in Hawaii, where farmers are dependent on these GMO crops, they vote for a ban to actually figure out if there is any cause for concern.  Hawaii seems to be getting it right.  I look forward to seeing the results, but then again, I’m sure it will be tied up in the courts for awhile…

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