Experts and Voters Agree: We Need to Fix the Food System

March 29, 2016 | 4:25 pm
Karen Perry Stillerman
Deputy Director

Add three dozen leading food experts to the growing chorus calling for more and better government action to fix our broken food system.

That’s the finding of a survey released last week by Politico. The political news site polled food experts from across the political spectrum, asking a range of questions about the problems they see in that system, and about possible solutions. These are folks who spend their days studying how our food system works, from within academia, advocacy organizations, Congress and federal agencies, and the food and biotechnology industries. Surprisingly, the 36 expert respondents agreed to a large degree that the solutions require more government action.

For example:

  • The vast majority of respondents sees a role for greater policy action to ensure that all Americans have enough to eat. (Does the government need to do more to address hunger? 92% YES, 8% NO)
  • Similarly, an overwhelming majority sees the need for stronger government action to curb the nation’s ongoing obesity epidemic. (Does the government need to do more to address obesity? 83% YES, 17% NO)
  • By a 3-to-1 margin, respondents believe regulations are needed to protect children from junk food marketing. (Should the government limit unhealthy food marketing to kids? 75% YES, 25% NO)
  • Only a small minority thinks the government should step back from regulating our food system overall, while a majority sees a role for greater action. (Should the government’s role in regulating the food system be more active, less active, or the same? 58% MORE ACTIVE, 9% LESS ACTIVE, 33% THE SAME)

For full disclosure, my colleague Dr. Ricardo Salvador was among the experts surveyed. An agricultural scientist by training and Director of UCS’s Food and Environment Program, Ricardo described why greater government action is needed to solve the obesity crisis, for example:

The U.S. spends $190 billion annually to treat obesity. A problem of this magnitude cannot be solved with by single policy change. In order to reduce the tremendous burden on our healthcare system, we must coordinate our work throughout the federal government. A smart, coordinated food policy that supports healthy food, sustainable farms, and social and economic justice could improve public health and save taxpayers money.

Rise of the Food Voter?

Image courtesy of Joe Shlabotnik/flickr

Photo: Joe Shlabotnik/flickr

Even as the 2016 presidential race grows ever more divisive and petty, our Plate of the Union initiative is staying focused on critical issues that really matter to all Americans—their food and their health. In a national poll released last fall, we showed that the American voting public cares—greatly—about these issues, which is why we’re calling on “food voters” to ask the next president to get to work fixing them in a comprehensive way.

Now, this notion of food voters seems to be catching on.

Earlier this month, the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health released the results of a national poll exploring American attitudes in the wake of apparent political meddling in the process that produced the federal government’s latest dietary guidelines. Of the 800 Americans JHU surveyed, nearly three-quarters believe the guidelines should have included environmental provisions to help consumers support sustainable agriculture practices while eating healthfully. And the results cut across political lines, revealing that the “food vote” isn’t partisan.

The global sustainability site Triple Pundit also jumped on the bandwagon, offering this handy guide for readers to determine if they are, in fact, food voters.

And recently, the Huffington Post sought to pin down the presidential contenders, sending each candidate a list of questions about how they would address the concerns of food voters. Upon receiving no replies, senior reporter Joseph Erbentraut observed that the candidates “seriously don’t seem to care about our food supply.”

Clearly, food voters will need to flex their muscles to press candidates to fix the food system. And they must. Because it surely isn’t going to fix itself.