The final debate is almost here! If you're like me, your first thought is to thank a higher power that this election is (finally) almost over. My second thought, however, may be a less common sentiment: I am wondering if the candidates will finally address the issues of food policy and the obesity epidemic on a national stage. It's not just me who wants more from the candidates here - most commentary on the topic of Hillary Clinton’s and Donald Trump’s stances on food and agricultural issues has concluded that the candidates simply haven’t said much of substance. While Clinton’s husband is famously vegan and she has a track record of choosing organic food, her official website does not include a policy section on food or agriculture. The closest she comes to touching these issues is in a bullet within the “Rural Communities” subsection of the “Economy and jobs” section, where she claims that she will “increase funding to support the next generation of farmers and ranchers in local food markets and regional food systems” and ”create a focused safety net to help family farms get through challenging times”. As for Donald Trump, he famously loves fast and processed food. However, his official website mentions food and/or agriculture related policy in only one place: he bemoans that “the number of Americans on Food Stamps during Obama’s time in office has increased by more than 12 million” within his “Economy” section. He had previously posted a statement that he would curtail the “FDA food police” with claims that this measure would stimulate economic growth but has since removed the statement from his site. The candidates have both asserted a huge quantity of official policy proposals on other major topics ranging from healthcare to foreign policy, so this silence on the issue of food and agricultural policy is salient. Furthermore, considering that diet is responsible for two out of three of the leading causes of preventable death in America, it is shocking that both major party candidates have failed to address policy issues related to food.
When candidates refuse to openly discuss an issue, voters and media can resort to the tried and true practice of following the money to discover their allegiances. In an article for Mother Jones published on September 28th, Tom Philpott aggregated information from the Center for Responsive Politics' OpenSecrets.org campaign-finance database to see which companies (or which company’s employees) are supporting each candidate. In his findings, Philpott determined that Hillary had raised more money than Trump from Agribusiness donors in a ratio of 2:1. When he examined the data at the individual donor level, Philpott found that Clinton’s major donors are large organic food producers/distributors like Nimeks Organics, Lifeway Foods, and Whole Foods Market. Alternatively, his findings showed Trump’s top Agribusiness donors to be large meat producers such as Mountaire Corp, Terra Linda Farms, and Tyson.
Does this mean that Clinton, if elected, would create policies more favorable to big agribusiness than Trump would? Probably not. While I appreciate Philpott’s analysis, his research methods do not amount to a perfect basis for comparison since Trump has experienced a major funding gap overall when compared to Clinton. The gap is staggering: through the end of August, his campaign had raised $165 million compared to the $373 million raised by the Clinton campaign. Due to the overall gap, it is hard to draw conclusions when comparing dollar amounts of campaign contributions to each candidate. Philpott and I agree in his concession that these business donors are probably simply trying to donate to the likeliest winner in order to cull favor in anticipation of the upcoming presidency. Assuming that Agribusiness donors are right in betting on Clinton, given her silence on the issues of food and agricultural issues, they, along with voters, will have to wait until she’s in office to see how policy will be directed.