October 8, 2012
Question: What domestic issue is essential to the health and well-being of every American, generates $369 billion in goods in the U.S. economy, employs 21 million people, can improve the environment, contributes $108 billion to the positive side of U.S. trade, and is an essential part of the economy of the major swing states in the general election in November—but received zero attention in the first presidential debate last week?
Answer: Agriculture policy and the failure of the Congress to pass a farm bill to replace one that has already expired.
Even though the topic of the first 2012 general election presidential debate was domestic policy, agriculture and food policy were not mentioned directly but only peripherally when biofuels, nutrition assistance, and the system of land grant colleges were mentioned. But you would have to know that biofuels can be agricultural products, that nutrition assistance programs were part of the United States Department of Agriculture, and that the land grant system was established to help farmers. Not every American is aware of that.
Ignoring agriculture and food policy in presidential debates is nothing new. Fewer and fewer people are actively, directly engaged in producing our food and fiber even though a significant number of people are involved in processing, marketing, and distribution, and everyone eats. But once a candidate gets past the Iowa caucuses, little attention is given to ag and food policy and rural communities, which is a mistake.
The availability of food is essential to life. How we produce our food can dramatically affect our health and the environment. And the Arab Spring has shown us what can happen when food becomes scarce.