The 2016 presidential election is now just two short weeks away. While neither candidate has been particularly vocal about food policy throughout the campaign, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton has made a handful of food policy-related statements and pledges in interviews, speeches and on her campaign’s website.
But even if Clinton were elected and she kept all of her food policy promises, her efforts as the 45th president could be thwarted by a GOP-dominated Congress that doesn’t share her goals or values.
Food-related policy rundown
Overall, some believe a President Hillary Clinton would “follow what Obama has not, pretty much the standard, glacial decision-making and risk avoidance decision-making at the agency [U.S. Food and Drug Administration],” Jeff Nedelman, CEO at Strategic Communications, LLC, told Food Dive.
- Biotechnology/GMOs: She said she believes in finding “policy solutions that are grounded in science and respect consumers” and was “glad Republicans and Democrats have worked together to build a bipartisan solution” to the GMO labeling issue.
- Climate change: She supports legislation to manage effects of climate change, including investments in clean energy, reducing energy waste and oil consumption and generating renewable energy, according to her campaign website.
- Animal rights: She has been a longtime advocate for animal rights, receiving 75% and 83% ratings from the Humane Society in her last two years in the Senate. She cosponsored the Downed Animal and Food Safety Protection bill, which would have required animals that could not move to be euthanized. The bill never received a vote.
- Antibiotics for farm animals: Goals stated on her website include “working to eliminate the use of antibiotics in farm animals for non-therapeutic reasons.”
- Pesticides: No public comment available.
- Farm subsidies: Voted in favor of an amendment to the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 that would have limited the amount of subsidies married couples could receive if they generated part of their income from farming or a related occupation. The amendment did not get enough votes to be added to the bill. During her previous presidential campaign, Clinton said the 2008 farm bill, which included farm subsidy reforms, would revitalize rural America.
- TPP: She opposes it. She says it doesn’t do enough to fight currency manipulation or create good American jobs, raise wages or improve the country’s national security.
- Immigration reform and agricultural labor: Within her first 100 days of office, she plans to introduce comprehensive immigration reform that improves paths to full citizenship for immigrants and protects farm owners and their employees.
- Regulatory reform: She pledges to expand open government initiatives started by the current administration and increase transparency efforts by directing federal agencies to voluntarily disclose more information online.
- Food safety: She plans to increase investment in basic and applied research for agricultural advancements. One way she would do this is by expanding access to capital, tools, transportation and infrastructure to equip farmers and ranchers with what they need to produce “better, safer, and a wider variety of food options than ever before.”
Could a GOP Congress hold back Clinton’s food policy reform efforts?
As a career politician, Clinton has ties throughout the food and beverage industry and the regulatory bodies that oversee them. However, any initiative she — or any president — might support still has to receive approval from Congress. And if President Barack Obama’s tenure with a Republican-dominated Congress is any indication, a GOP-majority Congress could cause similar gridlock for Clinton’s efforts as president.
“Certainly a Clinton administration will have greater ties and access to the far-left activists, such as Marion Nestle, Kelly Brownell, Michelle Simon and CSPI, but their issues boil down to ‘Eat this, not that’ or ‘Tax this, not that,’” said Nedelman. “Either course requires congressional approval, and as long as the GOP controls the House, nothing will happen. There may be smoke, but little fire.”
“I’m sure that Hillary Clinton has a grasp on most of these issues and clearly laid-out plans,” Stacy Moore, a foodservice analyst and MBE business owner, told Food Dive. “But much like what the Obamas faced, (she) may not be able to make any inroads.”
As president, Clinton could also face a number of food-related regulatory challenges that the FDA has undertaken, like coming up with new definitions for terms like "healthy" and "natural." However, these issues would be largely out of her hands and would take years to hammer out. The next president may see policy affected more by lawyers and the companies and trade groups they represent than executive branch initiatives.
“The next few years will equate to a full employment act for the food bar and food regulatory folks,” said Nedelman. “Changes in labeling, redefining basic terms will take years. The industry will gladly pay the lawyers while the marketing side of the companies push the envelope. Litigation may be more impactful than anything coming out of FDA.”
Still, analysts do feel one mantle Clinton will continue to uphold is the commitment to nutrition and children’s health that Michelle Obama began nearly eight years ago.
“(Clinton) has a unique opportunity to continue as the (grand)mother-in-chief that Michelle Obama pioneered and push an agenda focused on health, especially as it relates to children,” said Moore.
But those education initiatives need financial and activist support from both the federal government and advocates working directly with consumers. Experts say it’s unclear whether Clinton will have the backing she needs to see her nutrition-related goals to the end.
“When the NLEA [Nutrition Labeling and Educational Act of 1990] became law, everyone who lobbied the issue, including me at GMA, understood there would be zero dollars for a meaningful education effort – nothing beyond the Dietary Guidelines,” said Nedelman. “The same old issues continue – salt, fat, sugar, fruits and vegetables. There is zero interest among anybody to try to create a meaningful information and education campaign that is politically correct. There is no money for it, even if all the policy issues could be resolved.”
As the next two weeks tick down, food manufacturers and industry members may continue to await any mention of food policy initiatives that could tip the scales in favor of either candidate — perhaps to no avail. But if they believe Hillary Clinton could be the country’s next president, they may consider preparing for the food and beverage production and retail environment she has begun to outline through the policy stances she supports.