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Food Policy Opinion

How Donald Trump’s Presidency Has Affected Our Food

Photos: Sonder Quest on Unsplash and the White House Archives

After a tumultuous and chaotic four years, Donald Trump’s presidential run is coming to an end as Joe Biden assumes the presidency.

Four years of policymaking by the executive branch in that timeline has altered the food landscape in numerous ways. As we take a look back at Trump’s term and what he did to the world of food, we also can see the challenges Biden will have to overcome in that industry and field as he steps into the Oval Office. 

Overall, the numbers paint a more bleak picture for how food is made, its cost, and access to nutrition compared to four years ago. Below are some of the ways the food world has changed with Trump at the country’s helm.

The cost of food increased over the last four years, leading to rises in food insecurity

Photo: Motion Array

One of the key economic measures folks can look at for the cost of food comes from the Consumer Price Index. That chart shows that the cost of food went up 4% in the last year, and had additional increases ranging from 1.6-1.8% in each year of Trump’s presidency. This is compared to small increases of less than 1 percent, or even decreases, in the cost of food in the years prior.

As the cost of food has climbed, so has food insecurity, or the ability to access food by the general population. Prior to the 2020 pandemic, food insecurity had been dropping, and was at 15.7%. Conditions exacerbated by the lengthening of the pandemic, however, cause food insecurity to double overall, and triple amongst families with children. 

As Joe Biden takes office, bringing the cost of food down to help make it affordable, while improving economic livelihoods to decrease food insecurity, will need to be a priority as we emerge from the pandemic in the months to come. 

The power of Food Stamps and SNAP has significantly decreased, the program was almost gutted

Photo: Jeff Bukowski // Shutterstock

Food stamps were a program targeted for cuts early on in the Trump Administration, and in 2019, they finally got their wish. Regulations were enacted that restricted the number of people eligible for food stamps, with up to 3.7 million potentially being impacted by the new rules. 

While one could argue that an improving economy prior to the pandemic was dropping the number of those enrolled, numbers skyrocketed once COVID-19 hit. 38 million people were on food stamps in 2019, and that number jumped to 43 million in early 2020. 

The recent stimulus package passed by Congress did loosen eligibility requirements for food stamps, and benefits were also expanded. In a challenging economy caused by COVID-19, we can expect numbers to go up, but hopefully, as jobs come back, numbers of those who need food assistance will decrease naturally.

Food became more unsafe, less inspected, had more outbreaks and more at risk to more contamination

Photo: Aleksander Malivuk // Shutterstock

The FDA under the Trump Administration cut back warning letters sent to facilities by a third, meaning that enforcement and regulatory warnings to help prevent contamination were limited at a similar rate. 

The pandemic also led to the suspension of routine inspections of food processing facilities domestic and abroad. The amount of potential fraud and contamination that could arise is alarming, but we have yet to see any measurable data in that regard.

What we have seen, however, is a measurable rise in foodborne pathogen illnesses. Comparing data from 2016-2018 to just 2019, every single one of the eight most common pathogens saw an increase in reported cases. Produce and chicken, which the USDA just allowed to raise processing speeds on, were the most common causes, and even the CDC says that progress in controlling the pathogens has “stalled.” 

Increasing food safety inspections is a tough ask to do during a pandemic, given the risk of spreading infection to all of those involved. Improving food safety technology and getting inspections to above normal rates should help in the long run, however.

Racism targeting the food industry rose steadily, but so did pushback

Photo: Shutterstock

Maybe this was just due to claims made by the president that exacerbated hatred against Asian-American and more specifically, Chinese-American communities, or it could have been increased exposure to incidences on social media. Nonetheless, racism within the food industry was continually exposed over the last 4 years, and during the pandemic, Asian-American business owners were hit hard. They saw a 26 percent drop in business compared to 22 percent for other businesses. 

Issues of equity in the food, food media, and restaurant industries are nothing new. But during the Trump presidency, private businesses took it upon themselves to do better, even if the country’s leader was still being blatantly racist towards many groups. Many major firms, including Bon Appetit and the Los Angeles Times, expelled or took corrective actions against those who were racist to others in the company.

Of course, there’s still a long way to go in that regard.

School lunch nutrition, and children’s nutrition in general, took a massive hit

Photo: Motion Array

One of the first actions the Trump Administration took was to limit the guidelines set in place by Michelle Obama that improved the quality and nutrition of childrens’ school lunches. The Trump Administration started by allowing for more sodium and flavored milks while decreasing whole grains required for kids.

That was initially rebuffed by a federal judge in 2017, but the Trump Administration continued by limiting the amount of fruits and veggies schools had to serve to kids. The administration is also taking another run at the initial limitations they desired, but a final rule never materialized before Joe Biden’s inauguration. 

This comes as labeling requirements to point out added sugars and other changes have been indefinitely delayed, meaning that parents and kids may not have access to all of that info on all products they buy at the store. 

Whether the Biden administration chooses to lift that indefinite delay and restore school nutrition policies remains to be seen, though many experts predict it will happen with his first 100 days as president.

Price fixing scandals within the industry have been caught and halted

Photo: Motion Array

Across the meat, poultry, and seafood industries, executives have been consolidating and artificially inflating prices. This was proven in both the poultry and seafood industries, where the Department of Justice has levied fines or indicted individuals and companies in both groups. 

Companies where employees were charged included StarKist, Bumblebee, Tyson, Pilgrim’s Pride, and Claxton Poultry Farms. 

The Trump Administration is also actively investigating the meat/beef industry, although no charges or fines have yet to be levied. The investigations that the Justice Department started will continue and be handed over to Biden Administration officials.

Farmers are relying on the government more than ever to survive: well, big farmers at least

Photo: Motion Array

The government has long been subsidizing farmers to help keep the costs of produce down. Due to Trump’s trade war with China that sharply elevated prices, that amount of subsidy increased, to the amount where farmers could be getting up to 40 percent of their income from the government. That’s not sustainable for a business to survive on in the long run.

What makes matters worse is that most of that funding is being used to subsidize major farm and production corporations, rather than small farms. Two-thirds of the above payments went to the top 10 producers, while small farms and those with diversified operations were largely shut out.

This all comes as the country continues to see an exodus of small farms that has continued over the past 40 years. While small farms used to constitute half of all farming in the 1980s, they now only consist of just a fourth of farming. Over 1,000 dairy farms have also closed in just the past year in Wisconsin, and even agriculture secretary Sonny Perdue acknowledged the issue, saying “In America, the big get bigger and the small go out.”

Could the United States go further and privatize farming to guarantee incomes? Or will improved trade deals and economic conditions mean that they will have to help farmers less? That’s something the Biden Administration may have to decide in the coming years as they navigate issues surrounding farmers, including climate change and the current trade war with China.

GMOs got updated labeling requirements, but new nutrition labels have yet to be enforced

Photo courtesy of the FDA

Good news, America: You’ll now be able to see if a product contains GMOs based on labels that were passed into law in 2019. President Obama signed the requirements into law in 2016, and the industry is starting to have to comply, with everyone needing labels by 2022. 

Bad news, though: the updated nutrition label laws that show added sugars, make calories bigger, and implement other changes that are required at restaurant chains, are indefinitely delayed. While many companies took it upon themselves to institute the changes anyway, the Trump Administration chose to keep pushing the enforcement date back on them. Eventually, they chose to just indefinitely delay it in response to pressure from trade groups.

Biden may choose to end that delay and push them into effect, which would bring everyone up to date on nutrition labelling nearly 5 years after legislation was passed requiring them. Industry lobbyists, however, could still prevail.

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Health News Products

USDA Secretary Implements Major Changes To National School Lunch Program

If you’re a parent, pay close attention. There’s some big changes coming to the food that your child’s school will be allowed to serve.

USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue signed a proclamation that schools won’t have to meet some specific guidelines relating to salt, whole grains, and milk for the upcoming 2017-2018 school year.

Under the announced changes, states can grant exemptions to schools struggling to find a whole range of whole-grain products to sell to students, extends the deadline for schools to lower sodium content in food, allows for the sale of previously banned flavored 1% milk, and allows for more time to prepare foods.

The move aims to keep school lunches somewhat nutritious while increasing their appeal to students. It also allows items like chocolate milk and white bread back onto lunch menus and rolls back standards for whole grains, milk, and sodium set in 2012.

Congress’s appropriations bill, which is scheduled for a vote and likely passage some time this week, includes these exact alterations to USDA policy enforcement by barring federal funds from being used to pay government officials to implement the 2012 regulations, according to the Sacramento Bee.

Opponents of the new changes, including American Heart Association chief executive Nancy Brown, question the need for the rollback of previous guidelines since 99% of schools nationwide already comply with them. The director of the White House’s domestic policy council during the Obama Administration, Cecilia Munoz, also questioned “what the rationale is going to be for adding more salt to foods or moving away from whole grains to more refined grains.”

Many school districts and cafeteria workers disagree, claiming that the rules are expensive, heavily restrictive, and lead to the discarding of lots of whole grains and produce that children refuse to eat, as many are more accustomed to more refined foods.

“This gives us some flexibility to occasionally serve food that looks like what students would have at home, to try to get more students eating school meals,” said Michael Rosenberger, executive director of the Dallas school district’s food and child nutrition program, to the Wall Street Journal. “This is not a step backward.”

How do you feel about these new changes? Will they be better for schools and your kids?

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Culture Drinks Opinion Products

The DAIRY PRIDE Act Is Poorly Written, Big Dairy Propaganda

A couple of months ago, Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) introduced the “DAIRY PRIDE” Act into Congress. The bill, now in committee, aims to cut the legs out of the rapidly growing plant-based industry by preventing items like almond milk, soymilk, or cashew cheese from using dairy-related names.

However, the DAIRY PRIDE act is a poorly constructed bill that takes down swaths of other products alongside plant-based dairy and may even be unconstitutional in the first place, all while doing nothing to help the milk industry recover sales numbers, which is the whole aim of writing and introducing this bill in the first place.

The milk industry has been on a long trend of decline over the past 30 years. According to the Journal Sentinel, milk consumption has now fallen to 50% as sales tumbled over the past three decades. Following an increase in milk production due to shortages in the supply two years ago, massive excesses of milk now exist. The Wall Street Journal reports that this has led to a 36% drop in milk prices since 2014 and has forced farmers to dump over 43 million gallons of milk that they were unable to sell off last year.

Big milk would like to see that milk be sold rather than discarded, but consumers aren’t buying milk as much as they used to. So far, they’ve been able to work with the food industry to create cheesier products to use up some of the surplus, but it hasn’t been enough to prevent that milk from being lost.

To recover sales and prevent more milk dumping, big dairy needed to do something drastic. With plant-based dairy rapidly growing and eclipsing $5 billion in market value for the first time, it’s become a target for the milk industry. A bill like this is definitely a welcome boon to the dairy industry as a result.

However, there are a plethora of issues that this bill has that make it ineffective, weak, and possibly unconstitutional.

The bill cites the FDA definition of milk, unchanged since 1938, that is specific to only cows.

“Milk is the lactereal secretion, practically free from colostrum, obtained by the complete milking of one or more healthy cows.”

The DAIRY PRIDE Act aims to strictly enforce this definition. In doing so, plant-based dairy isn’t the only product category that has to change names. Peanut butter and goat cheese would both have to change names to be called something like “Peanut paste” or “goat curds.” Yum.

The bill does get more specific, however, when it targets plant-based dairy multiple times in the opening section of the act, directly calling out plant-based dairy labels as being “misleading to consumers.”

Their reason?

“Imitation dairy products, such as plant-based products derived from rice, nuts, soybeans, hemp, coconut, algae, and other foods that imitate milk, yogurt, and cheese, often do not provide the same nutrition content as real milk, cheese, and yogurt derived from dairy cows.”

As such, the act specifically goes after the plant-based industry and specifically calls them out in the act as “confusing” customers when it clearly doesn’t. We know that soy milk is soy and almond milk is almonds, and to anyone who says consumers can’t read a nutrition label is underestimating the intelligence of consumers. Almond-derived juice would be the basic alternative name, which just sounds… weird. That’s what proponents of the DAIRY PRIDE Act want, though, since it doesn’t sound as appealing. Removing the label doesn’t benefit consumers who are used to the name to begin with.

What’s more, the DAIRY PRIDE Act isn’t just misleading on its own, it may also be unconstitutional. The Good Food Institute wrote a public statement condemning the DAIRY PRIDE Act as “pandering to the dairy industry” through censorship.

“The government is only allowed to restrict commercial free speech if there is substantial government interest in doing so. Simply pandering to the dairy industry does not qualify as a good reason, therefore this legislation would be in violation of the First Amendment.”

Basically, Congress has a choice: pass this law and kill a rapidly growing and innovative industry in a feeble attempt to preserve the death of an already declining one, or leave the law be. If the DAIRY PRIDE act is dropped, plant-based dairy will be allowed to thrive while milk sales would continue to drop, which means farmers just need to produce less milk. They can sell the beef or switch to alternatives.

There is no substantial government interest in enforcing this rule because it does nothing to save the milk industry and is honestly just blatant censorship.

If Congress wants to avoid a meaningless legal battle and prevent their public perception of corruption to fester even more, they should not let this bill leave committee.

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Animals Health News

[INFOGRAPHIC] How the USDA Improved Organic Livestock and Poultry Treatment

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Photo: One Green Planet

Many times, when we hear about “cage-free” or “organic” raised poultry and livestock, the living conditions of the animals don’t match up to the image in our minds. Cage-free chickens and eggs are usually still confined in a small indoor living area, and ammonia emissions and outdoor living requirements for livestock aren’t well defined or heavily enforced — leading to lower quality livestock and poultry than what we would expect.

Today, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is aiming to change that with a new series of rules on bettering practices for organic poultry and livestock.

The new rules, published this morning in the Federal Register, specifically focus on the living and travel conditions of organic chicken and livestock, with aims to clarify and ensure consistency amongst how the animals are raised and their living conditions.

While the actual rules themselves are incredibly extensive, key features of the new rules (along with a timetable for required implementation) are included below in a USDA-generated infographic. Take a look for yourself:

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Photo: USDA

There’s definitely a lot covered in this set of new guidelines by the USDA, but it definitely raises the quality and safety of organic chicken and livestock. When their quality of life is better, there’s a lower risk for fecal-based pathogens to spread amongst livestock, as well as lower risks of injury to the birds themselves. These result in higher-quality, safer-to-eat animals that consumers can appreciate.

The new rules begin taking effect within the next year, so expect these changes to start happening rapidly.

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Health Hit-Or-Miss News Opinion

How Donald Trump’s Presidency Will Affect Your Food

With the dust mostly settled following one of the most divisive Presidential elections in American history, we have our new president-elect: Republican nominee Donald Trump.

Reactions have already sprung up all across the world over what this means for America. Some of these reactions have considered the potential future for the food industry. We’ve taken a look at articles from the Wall Street Journal, Eater, and others to figure out what president-elect Trump’s plans outline for the future of your food.

 

The Cost of Food Will Likely Increase

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Photo: Publish Your Articles

Under Donald Trump, America is likely to see a continual increase in food prices – and not one that just results from inflation.

Trump’s policy to close the Mexican border would definitely increase food cost. Eater reported a study on economic effects of closing the border that would lead to massive drops in production of produce and meat.

Closing the border would also lead to an increase in wages that would see revenues for farmers drop as low as 40 percent, pushing the cost of food up 5 or 6 percent while decreasing the supply of fresh produce in markets.

Donald Trump’s additional plans to reduce SNAP funding, as reported by Food Revolution, would also increase the cost of food for Americans currently on SNAP and render fresh produce basically unaffordable for SNAP users.

Considering that many areas in America already lack access to fresh produce and are trapped in “food deserts,” this could present a major problem for nutritional and health quality in many lower-income areas of the United States.

 

Food May Become Less Safe and More Susceptible to Fraud.

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A tax plan released a couple of months ago by the Trump Campaign included a plan to slash the power of the “FDA Food Police”, as the campaign called it. Guidelines by the FDA on the planting, hygiene, production, and processing of food would be harshly limited.

These guidelines are intended to ensure the safety of food – fresh or processed – being sold to consumers. Without these guidelines, food-borne illness is more likely to develop as the ability to measure food safety would diminish with funding decreases.

Decreasing the FDA’s power would not only make food less safe – it would also make it more susceptible to fraud. With Trump’s policies imposing limits on facility inspections (where only 5-6% of facilities are currently inspected annually), food facilities would find it easier to adulterate foods with cheaper substitutes for lower cost.

 

GMO Labeling Efforts Will Likely Fail 

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Donald Trump has confirmed via Twitter that he supports GMO food and preventing the labeling of GMOs. While efforts like the Non-GMO Project aren’t governmental and consumers will continue to demand non-GMO, government efforts to require GMO labeling would likely backpedal under a Trump presidency.

 

Our Food Supply May Become Less Sustainable

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The sustainability of our food supply, and ability to adequately feed the world healthy and nutritious food in the future, are at risk under President Trump. His policy on climate change is that it is a hoax, and he aims to backpedal efforts to increase environmental protections – and maybe even scrap the EPA altogether.

Apart from this increasing the amount of pesticides that would be used on our foods, this would also mean that our soil quality would be impacted by severe weather conditions resulting from climate change. Droughts in California and Texas have already brought this issue to light, with the cost of beef jumping 34 percent in a four-year span as feed production decreased and cost increased.

These weather systems make more land unusable for food production, meaning that we have less land to feed an increasing population – and a higher price of food as a result.

 

There’s A Likelihood That Children’s School Lunches Become More Unhealthy

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Many of Donald Trump’s top food advisers are advocates of unhealthier food and don’t consider sustainability concerns. These advisers include Texas Ag Commissioners like Sid Miller, who ensured that Texan school children could eat all of the desserts and fried food that they wanted, and Todd Staples, who resigned over the implementation of “Meatless Monday” programs and called limitations on meat consumption “treasonous.” They clearly do not have children’s health in mind – which could lead to further increases on childhood obesity rates in America as healthy lunch programs would likely be slashed.

 

Donald Trump’s stances on food policy spell out a grim outlook on the future of food, with prices rising and sustainability and accessibility falling. One can only hope that the efforts of those fighting for a more sustainable and accessible future of food can prevent this future from taking hold.

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Health

Despite Efforts, Studies Show It’s Almost Impossible to Eat Healthy at Chain Restaurants

If you’re eating out tonight, your chances of finding an entree that’s truly healthy are painfully low,” says Helen Wu, an overseer of the 18-month study conducted by the Rand Corp. and funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

In one of the most “duh” and depressing findings of the day, it looks like 96% of main entrees sold at top U.S. chain eateries exceed daily limits for calories, sodium, fat and saturated fat as recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

To be frank, I know eating out isn’t the best for my health, but I wasn’t aware it was this collectively piss poor.

The study examined the nutritional content of 30,923 menu items from 245 restaurant brands across America. The results indicated that there’s a better than nine-in-10 chance that your entree will fail to meet federal nutrition recommendations for both adults and kids.

It’s not to say the restaurant industry is turning a blind eye to the situation. There are a handful of restaurants that have been putting forth effort to add more healthful items on menus and highlighting options for particular health lifestyles.

Vice President of food policy at the National Restaurant Association, Joan McFlockton, states that the restaurant industry is “employing a wide range” of healthier-living strategies.

Not sure how well it’s doing industry wide, though. Wu notes that the industry-supported “Healthy Dining” seal of approval remains too generous on sodium, allowing up to 2,000 milligrams of it for one main entree, when the USDA daily recommended limit for most adults is 2,300 milligrams.

Should chain restaurants be more responsible for curating healthier menus? How hard is it for you to eat healthy when eating out? Do you even care to eat healthy when dining out, or should restaurants focus on creating whatever tastes best, not curb their menu creative to a healthy lifestyle?

[Via USA Today]