It is the subject that has been on everybody’s jaw-dropped lips this week as the United States of America has announced that their new president-elect is to be Donald Trump. The presidential campaign has been like no other before, causing endless discussions, furrowed brows and brain racking in pubs, offices, cafés and dining rooms the world over. And the results have been no less conversation provoking.
You’re probably sick of it- I have many friends who have resorted to avoiding media all together to prevent themselves hearing more discussions about Trump. But I am here to talk about the potential outcomes in terms of food and farming- an element which I feel has been missing in the campaigns so far.
Whatever your political persuasions- whether or not you have followed the presidential campaign in the States, whether you have supported Clinton or Trump (an unfortunate decision to have to make at best), each and every one of us eats food. This means that we all have a stake in what food we grow and how we grow it.
Food and farming was hardly discussed throughout the presidential campaign. There are, however, plenty of elements discussed during and since the campaign which can give us a good idea of what we might expect for our global food system in terms of its future sustainability under the Trump administration.
It is no secret that Trump has not made a great impression on environmentalists around the world. His infamous and ignorant denial of climate change in the first place has huge ramifications for the sustainable food movement itself. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the leader of one of the world’s biggest emitters does not believe in climate change. Brought to the forefront with the COP22 climate change conference taking place in Marrakesh at the same time as the election results, Trump has announced plans to withdraw the US from the global United Nations climate change process and promote domestic fossil fuels with a view to making the nation fuel independent. He has announced his view that global warming is a Chinese manufactured hoax, designed to create a market for renewable energy sources that they will dominate.
Climate change is set to cause multiple problems for the way we produce and consume our food, and it is necessary for us to adapt to this. This include using methods of production which are less fossil fuel dependent, emit fewer emissions, nourish rather than degrade the soil that we work with and enhance the natural landscape in general rather than destroying it.
He has plans to eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA). Although, arguably, they don’t always do an effective job, eliminating the only agencies responsible for protecting the US’ food supply from damaging pesticides, fertilisers and unregulated use of antibiotics can only be bad news. This holds little hope for the organic movement, and will inevitably damage efforts to make food safer, instead increasing rates of cancer, birth defects, outbreaks of salmonella and various other diseases.
Impacts on national scale will touch upon issues of food poverty, with plans to do away with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), a food stamp program designed to provide assistance for low- and no-income people living in the US. This year, the SNAP program is thought to have kept over 45 million Americans from going hungry, many of which are children. It is clear that caring for the poor and vulnerable is an integral part of creating a sustainable and just food system, and so eradicating such a program will inevitable cause hunger and malnutrition, as well as health care costs, to skyrocket in the US over the coming years.
His general attitude is sung to the tune of deregulation, which he has explicitly announced will be rolled out in support of GMO foods and non-madatory labelling.
Trump’s pig-headed, racist and xenophobic stance on immigration is also a telling sign of what we can expect to see within the nation’s agricultural sector. He has famously announced plans to deport illegal immigrants currently in the country and put a wall on the border to keep them from coming back. However, the agricultural industry in the States is heavily dependent on immigrant labor, both legal and illegal. Most of the one million farm workers in America are immigrants, up to a half are thought to be in the United States illegally. In 2010, when Georgia tightened its immigration law it caused crops to rot in the fields and prisoners had to be dispatched to aid in the harvest due to labor shortages. His approach to immigration, then, will no doubt result in food shortages and spikes in food prices.
The new president seems to have a child-like approach to food, and has notoriously been an avid fan of fast food. The New York Times has written on Trump’s hopes to become America’s first fast food President, and he has regularly posed with burgers and fried chicken from fast food chains on his private plane. His diet is in many ways a method of him relating to and gaining the support of his blue-collar followers. Yet it is also hugely damaging for organisations such as the Slow Food Movement who have sought to define a new approach to food which is embedded in culture, health and locality.
Another way we can forecast the future of sustainable food systems in light of the US election is by looking at the agricultural advisers that have been selected by Trump’s administration. To provide a brief list, these include Sid Miller- the newly elected Texas Ag Commissioner whose first official act was to make sure there were no limits to the amount of deep fried foods, soda pop, cupcakes, and similar foods that public schools in the state of Texas could serve to children. Another name is Terry Branstad, a keen supporter of Ag-Gag laws which criminalise investigations of animal cruelty, corporate corruption, dangerous working conditions, environmental violations, or food safety concerns at factory farms. Charles Herbster has been chosen as the Chairman of the Agricultural Advisory Committee, an agribusiness tycoon who owns a cattle-breeding company, and a company that sells pesticides and chemical fertilizers, receiving much of his funding from Monsanto and DuPont. Another name is Todd Staples, who resigned his position as Texas Agriculture Commissioner in protest after a “Meatless Monday” policy was adopted in a few Texas schools.
His own son’s are two of his main advisers, and are both known for their love of trophy hunting. This doesn’t bode well for his own sense of animal welfare, and the Human Society of the United States has called the advisory panel overall as “a veritable rogues gallery of anti-animal crusaders”. With this as its foundations, the future of farming in the US looks to be dominated by big agriculture and intensive farming, with huge consequences for livelihoods, communities and the environment.
On the bright side…
This is all very doom and gloom. And I apologise. But so far these speculations are merely based upon the assumption that the future of food sustainability rests with governments.
In reality, decisions surrounding sustainability are made by many other actors. In an increasingly privatised world, large corporations are beginning to arrange themselves with regulations. Consumers are using their purchasing power to determine the actions of such corporations- campaigning brands to adopt more sustainable practices and source their produce more responsibly. People are exercising their global citizen muscles more and more, and they aren’t afraid to make a scandal when they believe an injustice is being caused.
Not just this, but communities are taking matters into their own hands, creating food co-ops, community farms and community supports agriculture in efforts to regain control of the global food system.
Trump can be seen to represent the ugliest side of humanity- the side that hates difference, that sees women, religious groups and ethnic minorities as second class citizens, a side that refuses to believe facts for the sake of one’s own ignorant interests. Maybe Trump’s victory can be a wake-up call for us all, to the threats and challenges of climate change and to the opportunities available to us for creating our own solutions.
The regressive investments being made by big agriculture and intensive farming systems at the moment will be their downfall. In the end, it will be the self-reliant agro-ecological approaches that will persevere, the ones which treat people kindly and provide food that is safe, healthy and accessible for us and for our environment.