Farm, food issues not top priority for Philadelphia Democrats

Source: By Jim Webster, AgriPulse • Posted: Tuesday, July 26, 2016

WASHINGTON, July 24, 2016 – Thousands of Democrats will crowd Philadelphia this week to nominate Hillary Clinton for president, adopt a platform and – even with the prominence of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in her vice presidential sweepstakes – hold their quadrennial convention with hardly a second thought given to food and agricultural matters.

The lack of prominence for agricultural policy and programs at either major political party’s nominating conventions is a reflection of the diminishing share of the electorate in rural areas, relative to the vote in metropolitan areas. Its importance for Democrats in particular has weakened as recent elections have seen Republican increase their majorities in rural areas.

Republican nominee Donald Trump appears favored by a wide margin in rural counties which comprise 13 percent of the electorate, as identified by the American Communities Project. An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll in May gave him 64 percent to Clinton’s 27 percent. Trump’s share in the poll is eight points higher than Romney’s 2012 share and Clinton’s is 15 points lower than President Obama’s 42 percent share four years ago, project director Dante Chinni has pointed out.

Even as they recognize the reality of such polling data, Democrats with ties to agriculture and rural America are not writing off the November election. They instead profess optimism that they can trim a few points off the normally Republican majorities by focusing on issues such as the farm labor shortage and Clinton’s advocacy of increased funding to rebuild infrastructure, including housing, rural roads, rails, bridges, ports, waterways and high-speed communications.

Likely the most visibility for rural issues will come Tuesday evening on the sidelines of the convention proper when a collection of Washington-focused food and agricultural companies, trade associations and farm organizations hold a reception featuring Vilsack and Pennsylvania Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding, who may be a possibility in a Clinton cabinet. Among sponsors looking to rub elbows with leading Democrats: AgriBank, CoBank, Growth Energy, National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, PepsiCo, Monsanto, Dow AgroSciences, Cargill, CropLife America, Land O’Lakes, General Mills, Renewable Fuels Association, American Farm Bureau Federation, National Farmers Union and milk, pork, cotton, corn, and seed groups.

An alliance of “alternative” food advocates plans an event Monday featuring television chef Tom Colicchio, urging an end to policies that support the major “program crops” such as corn and soybeans. The group, organized under the banner of Plate of the Union, blames current farm policies for a myriad of ills. “This public health crisis reflects a broken food system propped up by a set of agricultural subsidies and other government policies, created and maintained by powerful lobbyists,” its website says. Its members include Food Policy Action and the Union of Concerned Scientists.

In the convention hall, delegates are expected to adopt a platform that includes a promise to “work to build a stronger rural and agricultural economy.” The draft pledges, “Democrats will increase funding to support the next generation of farmers and ranchers, with particular attention given to promoting environmentally sustainable agricultural practices. We will encourage programs to protect and enhance family farms, a cherished way of life for millions of Americans. We will expand local food markets and regional food systems and provide a focused safety net to assist family operations that need support during challenging times.”

It also would enhance programs to protect farm workers from “harmful pesticides and herbicides” and advocate “stronger agricultural worker protections including regulation of work hours, elimination of child labor, ensuring adequate housing for migrant workers, and sanitary facilities in the field.” Other provisions would strengthen rural water, sewer and broadband, expand access to equity capital for rural small business, develop clean energy and “double loan guarantees that support the bio-based economy’s dynamic growth.”

A section on infrastructure promises “the most ambitious investment in American infrastructure since President Eisenhower created the interstate highway system.” Its proposed infrastructure bank would finance investments in energy, water, broadband, transportation and other ventures.

On immigration, it says, “Democrats believe we need to urgently fix our broken immigration system – which tears families apart and keeps workers in the shadows – and create a path to citizenship for law-abiding families who are here, making a better life for their families and contributing to their communities and our country.”

The platform would commit the new administration to make competition policy stronger and more responsive to our economy today, enhance the antitrust enforcement arms of the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission and encourage other agencies to police anticompetitive practices in their areas of jurisdiction.” The latter could be interpreted to encourage USDA’s Grain Inspection Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) rules.

It is not clear whether supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont will seek a vote on the convention floor to amend the platform to specifically oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Such an effort was turned back at the drafting committee meeting by supporters of President Obama and Clinton allies, notwithstanding her opposition to the agreement.

In the draft trade section, “Democrats acknowledge that for millions of Americans, global trade has failed to live up to its promise – with too many countries breaking the rules and too many corporations outsourcing jobs at the expense of American workers and communities.” Trade deals have failed to live up to their promise, it adds, but instead “often boosted the profits of large corporations, while at the same time failing to protect workers’ rights, labor standards, the environment and public health.” It says future deals “must make sure that our trading partners cannot undercut American workers by taking shortcuts on labor policy or the environment.”

It acknowledges “a diversity of views in the party” on the TPP, adding, “But all Democrats believe that any trade agreement must protect workers and the environment and not undermine access to critically-needed prescription drugs.”