Food and ag policy absent from presidential campaigns

As half a dozen presidential candidates barnstorm across the state in advance of Ohio’s crucial primary election, we have heard almost nothing about Ohio’s largest industry. In Ohio, we have been proud to tout our agriculture and food industries as one of our most important economic sectors, but our agricultural leaders have not been successful at holding the candidate’s feet to the fire about the future of Ag and Food policy.

This election year coincides with a period of serious economic stress in the ag community, and a time when we should be making critical decisions about such important issues as food labeling and the structure of our next farm bill. We call on presidential candidates to “steak” out their positions on issues critical to our future food system.

We have heard both sides of the argument about the benefits and liabilities of international trade agreements, mostly related to manufacturing jobs. Absent in these discussions has been comprehensive analysis of the impacts of lesser-known impacts trade agreements such as Investor-State Dispute Resolution (ISDR), which will allow both nations and corporations to bring disputes against federal, state or local governments who may enact preferences for domestic or locally-sourced products.

We have recently witnessed the sad results of the World Trade Organization’s dispute resolution case regarding our Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) law for meats. In this case, the WTO resolution panel, chaired by one of the litigant nations, ruled against a U.S. law that had the support of 94% of American consumers and 90% of independent American farmers. None of the candidates has mentioned this important element of trade agreements, nor have they mentioned the fact that it is now more difficult for U.S. consumers to determine from where their food originates.

Even more timely is the currently ongoing debate about labeling of foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs). On the heels of legislation passed by Vermont requiring the labeling of such foods, and fearing the evolution of a patchwork of differing labeling requirements, Congress is contemplating a federal statute that would establish uniform labeling requirements, while preempting any state or local initiatives to do so.

As in the COOL debate, American consumers strongly support a requirement for accurate labeling of GMO products, but corporate food industry interests strongly oppose it. This issue is of utmost importance for the future of our food system — and the marketing efforts of a growing number of family farmers around Ohio and the U.S. who are earning more per unit for their production of non-gmo grains, milk, eggs, livestock and other food.

At this critical moment in history, with political sentiments as broadly dispersed as any time in recent memory, we call upon our presidential candidates to make their positions known on important issues such as these.

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