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How the 2020 Democratic Presidential Candidates Stack Up on Food Issues

by Alana Williams

This year’s Presidential race is already intense. Democrats seem focused on finding a candidate “electable” enough to challenge sitting President Trump, and with so many vying for the top office and plenty of time left, democratic candidates are doing all they can to stand out.  If you’re anything like us, you wish food was a major campaign platform encompassing plans for farming, trade, climate, and food access, equity and safety. We’re not there yet, but with more and more candidates discussing food as an interrelated system, we think we’re headed in that direction. Here is where the current democratic front runners stand on slow food and farm issues.

Senator Elizabeth Warren has a history of promoting food equity.

She introduced the College Student Hunger Act of 2019, and supported Senator Sanders’ initiative to extend food assistance to all U.S. territories. She co-sponsored the Fairness for Farmworkers Act, which would grant overtime protection for farm workers and eliminate their exemption from receiving the federal minimum wage.

She has said she wants to create a “new farm economy” for struggling farmers. She supports “right-to-repair” laws that would save farmers money, as well as voluntary check-off programs for producers to pool money into marketing for their product. She has advocated for dairy farmers by sponsoring the Dairy Business Innovation Act of 2018 that would have provided grants and technical assistance to dairy businesses.

The presidential hopeful is an ardent supporter of anti-trust laws against mergers of big seed and chemical companies such as Bayer-Monsanto, and has spoken out against vertically integrated agribusiness which can stifle small and mid-scale family farmers. She has said, as President, she would ban foreign ownership of U.S. farmland.

Finally, her pro-climate stance means she supports a Green New Deal that includes agricultural provisions. Her Green Manufacturing Plan mentions a farmer-led innovation fund for investing in new methods of sustainable farming.

Senator Bernie Sanders has long defended the rights of food service workers and supported their unions, and supports food access initiatives like free school lunches for all students.

He was the primary sponsor of a bill to expand eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) to include U.S. territories, and like Warren, he co-sponsored the Fairness for Farmworkers Act.

His “Revitalizing Rural America” plan includes reversing corporate consolidation using trust-busting laws, implementing regenerative agriculture, making investments in rural infrastructure and reforming subsidies to favor small and mid-size farms. In 2011, he introduced the Community-Supported Agriculture Promotion Act that would have allotted USDA funds to the promotion of local food systems and has co-sponsored many bills that would protect dairy farmers from volatile markets.

He and Warren both support a ban on all new factory farms in Iowa, and his support for the Green New Deal encompasses its climate-forward farming measures that would draw down carbon. Finally, he supports GMO labeling that would allow greater transparency to consumers about how their food is grown.

Former VP Joe Biden has said he would help beginning farmers access credit and capital through an Obama-era microloan program, and provide funding for transitions to organic and free-range.

His plan for rural America includes rural health care access and systems of support to small and mid-size farms such as agricultural anti-trust resolutions and strengthened supply chains between local farms and state-owned institutional purchasers such as schools and hospitals.

In 2007, he supported a resolution that would have capped farm subsidy payments and reallocated funds to conservation programs. This aligns with his climate-friendly goal of making America the first net-zero emissions agricultural producer by increasing support to farmers whose practices sequester carbon, and enrolling them in carbon-offset programs.

The former VP’s trade policies as a senator include transparency in country of origin labeling, and though he supports a trade policy that protects U.S. farmers from global market competition, it lacks details. His plan for rural America shows a strong backing for biofuels and bio-based manufacturing to create more rural jobs. Although made out of plants, fuels, chemicals, and materials made from these processes are energy-intensive and require the continuation of surplus commodity crops.

Finally, her pro-climate stance means she supports a Green New Deal that includes agricultural provisions. Her Green Manufacturing Plan mentions a farmer-led innovation fund for investing in new methods of sustainable farming.

Mayor Pete Buttigieg strongly believes in regenerative agriculture as a form of carbon capture.

He has said if president, he would invest in USDA research and development, pay farmers to sequester carbon and expand voluntary conservation programs like the Conservation Stewardship Program.

His stance against big agribusiness consolidation means doubling the current government budget for antitrust enforcement and lowering the reporting threshold for mergers.

As far as food justice goes, he has supported striking food service workers and supports a $15 minimum wage for all workers, including farmworkers. His rural economy plan would invest in entrepreneurship, infrastructure, and higher salaries and student debt forgiveness for rural teachers.

Like many of the democratic candidates, he supports a Green New Deal that calls for climate action in the farming sector. 

Senator Amy Klobuchar has expressed care for small-scale farmers impacted by climate change and the trade war.

Her agricultural and rural communities plan outlines increased supports to small farms and investments in rural internet access, railways, agricultural research as well as student loan forgiveness for farmers.

Like other democratic candidates mentioned, she co-sponsored the Fairness for Farmworkers Act, and co-sponsored Sen. Diane Feinstein’s Agricultural Worker Program Act along with Sanders, Booker and Bennet. She joins Warren and Sanders in calling for anti-trust regulation to counter big agribusiness consolidation.

She has called for environmental initiatives in farming such as Farm Bill conservation programs that encourage farmers to adopt sustainable practices.

She received criticism in 2016 for her ambivalence on GMO labeling, and for supporting the legislation that classified pizza as a vegetable serving in school meals in 2011. On the campaign trail, she toured an ethanol plant where she promised workers she would protect biofuels.

Government outsider, former hedge fund operator, and present environmental activist, Tom Steyer has not enunciated a food and agriculture policy, but he is strong on addressing climate change in a Steyer administration.

If elected, he would declare climate change a national emergency, which rely on his use of the emergency powers of the presidency.  He would reenter the Paris climate accords and, if Congress has not passed a Green New Deal, he would set clean energy standards that would cost $2.3 trillion.

Andrew Yang, philanthropist and entrepreneur, is running a campaign based on the idea of a universal basic income: a $1,000 a month stipend given to every American.

His plan for the environment addresses land conservation and mentions reducing food waste at the retail level through tax credits to understock, as well as capturing biogas such as methane from food that is thrown out to power the energy grid. He pledges to invest in research for vertical farming techniques, increase funding to biogas programs and provide grants and subsidies to farms transitioning to sustainable practices.

This presidential race has a historically large pool of candidates. But with the Iowa caucus coming up on February 3rd, we may soon have a better idea of who the final democratic contenders may be. No matter your political ideologies, we commend you for staying informed on food issues, and encourage you to continue your involvement in the democratic process by voting in the fall! In the meantime, stay tuned for more insights on food and farming in the 2020 presidential election. 

Click Here to watch a Slow Food Nations panel about the food issues that should be on this year’s ballot!