Wall Street Crisis a Top Priority, But What About Our Farms?
With a financial crisis gripping the nation, presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama are busy figuring out where they stand on the proposed plan to bail out sinking financial institutions. But what of their views on the lower-priority but no less important issues of local food and farms? Where do the presidential contenders stand?
Of the two, Obama seems to be much more in tune with growing discontent over the nation’s industrial food system and the needs of small farmers. His agriculture plan provides support for organic and sustainable farming, local and regional food systems, and most tellingly, people who want to become farmers. Though light on details, the plan is in sharp contrast with McCain’s, which is mum on local food and family farm issues.
According to a position paper posted on BarackObama.com — Obama’s official campaign Web site — Obama will establish a new program to identify the next generation of farmers and ranchers. The plan calls for tax incentives that will make it easier for new farmers to afford their first farm. It provides a capital gains tax break for landowners selling to beginning family farmers, and a first-time buyers tax credit for new farmers. Obama will also increase funding for a program that helps farmers meet the costs of complying with national organic certification standards. And he’ll implement USDA policies that promote local and regional food systems, though he doesn’t provide any specifics.
A big part of Obama’s agriculture plan — he calls it his plan for rural America — focuses on preventing the corporate consolidation of farms. He supports both the contentious “packer ban” and country of origin labeling legislation. The packer ban would ban meatpackers — a concentrated industry dominated by three industrial players — from owning livestock. The ban is intended to prevent the “big guys” from controlling the prices small ranchers can get for their livestock. Obama also supports the immediate implementation of a law requiring meat products to indicate their country of origin, a measure that would help small meat producers differentiate themselves from global industrial players. McCain opposes both the packer ban and country of origin labeling.
A look at the 2008 Farm Bill, enacted this June, is also revealing of the candidates’ farm policy leanings. Obama supported the bill, while McCain opposed it. The 2008 Farm Bill is widely regarded as a breakthrough for small farmers and advocates of local food systems.
It’s pretty clear. When it comes to local food and farms, Obama appears to be the better candidate, by far.