By Joanna Lidback: Barton, Vermont
As the U.S. presidential race enters its last stages, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are making their final pitches—including their final pitches to farmers like me and the rest of rural America.
The Democratic candidate promises to “fight to ensure that America’s farmers and ranchers of all sizes have the tools they need to succeed.” The Republican nominee pledges that he’ll oversee “a pro-agriculture administration.”
Beneath these platitudes, however, is a comforting convergence: Both Clinton and Trump support innovative technology – including GMOs.
Perhaps this should come as no surprise. Access to innovation has been key to America’s strength since the beginning and it is no different today. For farmers across the country, growing crops improved with access to GMO technology is providing all of us a safe and healthy source of food. They’ve proven to be good for the environment. They’re allowing farmers I rely on to use resources like water as efficiently as possible so we can grow more food on less land than ever before.
Yet this technology has been allowed to become controversial, at least to activists who spread misinformation about it and the crops that have been improved with it —and whose reckless demands have included everything from expensive warning labels to outright bans on these vital sources of food.
For Clinton and Trump, however, GMO technology is a non-issue. They never talk about it in stump speeches. They didn’t argue about them in last week’s debate and probably won’t do it in the next two either.
Thank goodness the American Farm Bureau Federation thought to ask. Every four years, it sends a questionnaire to the presidential candidates, seeking their views on agricultural topics.
“Our future food security will depend on science, technology, and innovation to increase efficiency, adapt to droughts, and fight plant diseases,” observed this year’s survey. “How will you ensure that new traits are reviewed expeditiously, that USDA’s GMO disclosure rules are focused on science, and that solutions from science and technology are harnessed to meet the challenge of feeding a growing world?”
That’s a good question. Here’s how the candidates responded.
“Our goal should be to find policy solutions that are grounded in science and respect consumers,” said Clinton’s reply. She also endorsed the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act, passed by Congress and signed by President Obama earlier this year, saying she is “glad Republicans and Democrats have worked together to build a bipartisan solution to this issue.”
Trump sounded similar notes: “I support the use of biotechnology in food production, which has enabled American farmers to increase yields to levels never before experienced in the history of the world. Through innovation, American farmers are producing crops more resilient to drought, heat, and pests.”
So there you have it: On the most fundamental question involving food security, Clinton and Trump stand in basic agreement, supporting the use of biotechnology in agriculture.
Digging deeper into their answers, a few differences begin to emerge. Clinton vowed “to invest in advanced biofuels research and development.” Trump didn’t discuss biofuels in the AFBF questionnaire, but in other forums he has mentioned his support for renewable fuel standards.
On regulations, Clinton and Trump appeared to part ways. Clinton merely promised to consult “a wide range of stakeholders, including farmers and ranchers.” Unfortunately, the vague term “stakeholder” often includes the activists who devote themselves to protesting innovations in agriculture and technology without taking the time to understand them.
Trump took a clearer stand: “Our nation’s regulatory system is completely broken,” he said. “Our nation’s farmers are often forced to endure costly, burdensome, and unwise regulations that are bad for American farmers and consumers.” He went on: “I will appoint a pro-farmer administrator of the EPA. Next, I will eliminate the unconstitutional ‘Waters of the US’ rule.”
That’s a reference to a proposed expansion of the Clean Water Act—one that looks to many farmers like an alarming power grab by bureaucrats. “This rule is so extreme that it gives federal agencies control over creeks, small streams, and even puddles or mostly dry areas on private property,” warned Trump.
Clinton didn’t bring up this problem, though she did say she’ll “maintain the longstanding exemptions for common farming practices, and will continue pushing for clarity within the law.”
On free trade, Clinton and Trump are in agreement and badly wrong: They are loud opponents of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, even though its approval would create new export markets for U.S. farmers.
Farmers, of course, have more on their minds than agriculture. We’re American citizens who also care about budget deficits, social policies, and national security—and we’ll weigh all of these factors as we decide how to vote.
Whatever happens on November 8, however, I’m encouraged by at least one thing: Despite the angry pleadings of noisy protestors, our next president will support technology and innovation in agriculture.
Joanna Lidback and her husband operate the Farm at Wheeler Mountain, a diversified dairy farm in Vermont. Joanna volunteers as a board member for the Global Farmer Network.