Obama and Romney's Food Policy Priorities: In Their Own Words

The presidential candidates finally get around to laying out their food policy goals.
Photo: Getty Images
Sep 11, 2012· 2 MIN READ
Clare Leschin-Hoar's stories on seafood and food politics have appeared in Scientific American, Eating Well and elsewhere.

President Obama and his Republican rival, Mitt Romney, have been busy sparring over job creation, immigration, and healthcare. But when it comes to food-related issues, they’ve been surprisingly quiet—which is troubling for some voters.

The massive and important 2012 Farm Bill remains on the table, with only a small window in which lawmakers need to pass (or extend) it before it expires. The Food Safety and Modernization Act remains stalled in the White House Office of Management and Budget. California is on the cusp of passing (or not) Proposition 37, which would require labeling of products that contain genetically modified ingredients—just to rattle off a few items.

RELATED: The Hidden Costs of the Farm Bill

But late last week, the United Fresh Produce Association persuaded each candidate to go on record about some of the industry’s most important agenda items: food safety, immigration, the Farm Bill, and more. (You can read the questionnaire and answers in their entirety here and here.)

Food Safety

  • Romney “believes preventive practices are best developed by growers, handlers, processors, and others in the supply chain with specific knowledge of the risks, diversity of operations in the industry and feasibility of potential mitigation strategies.”
  • President Obama’s response on the same topic: “We are looking for creative ways to coordinate with the food industry and take advantage of modern technology to achieve our food and safety goals, including being able to rapidly and effectively trace contaminated foods,” he says. “Effectively managing risk is important to all producers, and having an acceptable food safety program is in the best interest of consumers, buyers and the farmers themselves.”

Immigration and Farm Labor

  • Romney pledges to make the system for temporary agricultural workers and other seasonal workers functional, and will get rid of unnecessary requirements that delay issuance of a visa.
  • Obama pointed to things like border security and enforcement of immigration laws, but didn’t address the topic as it specifically related to agricultural issues.


United Fresh asks: Will your administration build on [established nutritional] programs, or would you support a change in nutrition strategy?

  • Romney’s response? “The federal government should not dictate what every American eats.”
  • The President highlighted Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools” initiative, the USDA Fresh Fruit and Vegetable (Snack) Program for schools and the USDA My Plate campaign, continuing to put fruits and vegetables on the plates of school children, establishing grocery stores in underserved communities and supporting regional food hubs are priorities as well.

The Farm Bill

  • Romney says the U.S. government is moving away from decades of government intervention and subsidies towards a more market-based system, adding that government is in a unique position to help with research on pest and disease control. He didn’t address crop insurance, SNAP, conservation measures or other controversial components of the bill.
  • Obama’s answer was far more tailored to the specialty crop question, saying fruits, nuts, vegetables, and other similar crops are vital to American’s health, while contributing $18 billion to the economy.

On September 25, both candidates will be addressing the Clinton Global Initiative in New York. According to the Associated Press, Romney is slated to kick off a panel on redesigning global food production, while Obama will be addressing how financial institutions can help the poor.

More on food and the 2012 elections:

Farmers and Hungry Families Wait for Help as Congress Dithers on Farm Bill

Food Companies Coughing Up Huge Sums to Oppose GMO Labeling

10 Celebrities Who Support GMO Food Labeling