Election 2016: Will Donald Trump deregulate the FDA?
The Republican has made bold policy statements that would have an sweeping impact on the industry
Editor's note: This story has been edited after Tuesday's election results.
Republican President-elect Donald Trump had a bumpy campaign.
That’s been particularly true after he lost endorsements from several GOP backers following the release of his infamous videotaped conversation with Billy Bush. His defectors included at least two members of his agriculture advisory council, which could impact his political support from the food and agriculture industries.
Still, voters may focus on policy rather than scandals when it comes time to cast their vote for the 45th president of the United States. Like Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, Trump has been relatively quiet on his food policy stances during debates and campaign speeches.
But one issue he was vocal about, before quickly withdrawing comment, concerned potential deregulation of the FDA. This has many food industry proponents curious whether this could even happen and, if so, what it could mean for producers and manufacturers.
Food-related policy rundown
Since there has not been much straightforward discussion, it’s been difficult for experts to see any overall trends in how, as president, Trump might influence food policy. Here’s an overview of where he stands on many critical industry issues, based on statements made in the past gathered by Agri-Pulse and The Huffington Post:
- Biotechnology/GMOs: He supports technology usage in food production: “Government should not block positive technological advancements in agriculture. Agency reviews need to be streamlined with all unnecessary red-tape cut out.” He opposes “unwarranted government mandates that hurt farmers and confuse consumers, such as mandatory biotech labeling.”
- Climate change: He calls climate change a hoax and claims policy supporters only want to raise taxes. He tweeted in 2012 “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”
- Animal rights: His agricultural advisory team includes Forrest Lucas, founder of Protect the Harvest, which combats restrictions on animal agriculture, and Brian Klippenstein, the organization’s executive director. The Humane Society of the United States is campaigning to oppose Trump, the first time the organization has participated in a presidential race.
- Antibiotics for farm animals: No public comment available.
- Pesticides: No public comment available. But the 2016 Republican platform includes plans to discontinue the EPA, which regulates the use of pesticides in the domestic supply chain.
- Farm subsidies: He has pledged to continue pursuing a World Trade Organization case against Chinese export subsidies, which he says are illegal, as part of his proposed crackdown on China.
- TPP: He opposes it. He calls it “a bad deal” and “an attack on America’s business.” Trump recently called into the American Farm Bureau Federation’s board meeting, saying he would renegotiate a replacement agreement that, he said, “will be fantastic.”
- Immigration reform and agricultural labor: He plans to build a wall across the U.S.’s southern border with Mexico and to institute an immigration plan that he says improves jobs, wages and security for all American citizens. He has also expressed plans to implement the country’s “right as a sovereign nation” to select immigrants who are the likeliest to thrive in the U.S. rather than accept all immigrants who work toward citizenship.
- Regulatory reform: He plans to reduce the power of the federal government over businesses like farming and ranching, increase transparency and accountability in the regulatory process, and refuses to continue “sue and settle” deals with environmentalists.
- Food safety: He says he will have “a pro-agriculture administration” that “will fight for American farmers and their families” by “making use of our nation’s God-given lands and resources.” He says he will implement policies that benefit farmers and consumers, while opposing unnecessary government intervention.
Policy focus: Would Trump really deregulate the FDA?
In mid-September, The Hill reported that the Trump campaign released a fact sheet detailing a reduction of “overkill” food safety regulations that the campaign argued are burdensome to farmers — including a takedown of the "FDA Food Police." But the campaign later removed the original fact sheet and released a replacement that did not talk about FDA food regulations, according to the Associated Press.
Among the proposals and statements in the original fact sheet were criticisms of “inspection overkill” at food manufacturing facilities. It also contained complaints about a host of FDA food safety rules that “govern the soil farmers use, farm and good production hygiene, food packaging, food temperatures” and other aspects of the food and farming industries.
The food-agriculture industry spectrum seems to have mixed feelings on these proposals. On one hand, fewer regulations could mean less costs incurred by manufacturers and farmers to comply with regulations or inspection requirements. But the food industry has already been blemished by frequent recalls, including several high-profile incidents, so any rollback of regulations could leave the food supply in a less safe state.
But while Trump may pledge to carry out such an initiative to assist domestic businesses, the question is whether such an act is even in the president’s jurisdiction.
“Most of FDA’s activities are mandated by law,” Jeff Nedelman, CEO at Strategic Communications, LLC, told Food Dive. “That will not change… I don’t believe FDA reform of any kind will be on anybody’s first 100 days’ to-do list.”
Some experts fear that “deregulation” of the FDA might simply mean defunding the agency, which is currently in the middle of ironing out regulations and compliance guidelines that will have major effects on the industry. Those range from FSMA rules and Nutrition Facts panel regulations to official, up-to-date definitions for label terms like “natural” and “healthy.”
“In general, Trump will call to cut budgets, which is bad news for an FDA that already has too many things to do and too few resources,” said Nedelman.
Whether deregulation of the FDA could ultimately help or hinder food and beverage manufacturers is up in the air. Equally uncertain is whether Trump would actually push forward with his original intentions or pull back, as his second fact sheet without the deregulation proposal would suggest. But with Trump as president with a GOP Congress on his side, manufacturers could see notable changes to the industry in the years to come.