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JBF Impact News: Good Food and the State of the Union

Katherine Miller

January 24, 2018


In her latest dispatch, our senior director of food policy advocacy Katherine Miller previews the upcoming State of the Union, highlighting potential indicators of policy changes that good food advocates should be tracking in 2018. 


On January 30, President Donald Trump will address a joint session of Congress. This joint address—or State of the Union—is a time to hear from the President about his administration’s priorities for both this year, and for the future. This time around, good food advocates should pay attention to whether immigration, the Farm Bill, trade, SNAP, and other programs merit a mention. For those interested in building a better food system, here are a few things to listen for in the speech:

Updates on U.S. agriculture policy: the nearly trillion-dollar appropriation that supports land-based agriculture expires in September 2018. At the American Farm Bureau’s annual convention, President Trump pledged that the bill would be renewed on time, and would include crop insurance. Farmers also want the Administration to stay in global trade treaties and to continue to support global food aid programs that source from American farms and ranches. 

Immigration reform (as it relates to farm and restaurant workers: redesigning America’s immigration policy is the number-one priority for the Trump Administration. Earlier this month, the Administration announced that it would end a decades-long program providing protected status to immigrants from El Salvador. Hundreds of thousands of people, some of whom work in restaurants and hospitality, could be forced to leave the country. Another area of immigration that should be of concern to everyone interested in our food system is the possibility that this Administration won’t continue or expand the Farm Worker program. Farms requested special visas for 200,000 skilled workers last year to help pick crops and work on farms. It is unclear where this program fits in the Administration’s agenda.

Any mention of block grants to states for assistance programs: while it is unlikely that President Trump will specifically mention the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in his speech, it is possible that he will talk about toughening all the rules that govern programs designed to help the neediest. Comments that allude to sending money for government programs to states in the form of block grants or tightening workforce rules could signal similar changes to SNAP. Earlier drafts of the President’s budget also showed outright budget cuts to these programs that help feed more than 40 million Americans in times of need.  
Whether or not the President mentions these programs in the speech, they are the key initiatives that we’ll spend the year watching closely. Our 2018 Chefs Boot Camps for Policy Change will focus on the Farm Bill and the ways that chefs, restaurateurs, farmers, and others can get involved with the biggest piece of food policy Congress will deal with this year. Chef-advocates are also very interested in whether or not this Administration will allow for the full implementation of the “organic standards” related to animal welfare standards. These have been delayed until at least May 2018. 

In addition to each of the land-based food policies we’ll be tracking, we’re keeping an eye on moves by the government related to sustainable seafood—especially any attempts to rework or make substantive changes to the Magnuson-Stevens Act. This law, typically supported by a broad, bipartisan Congressional coalition, has helped rebuild several U.S. fisheries. The Trump Administration has signaled that this era of improvement may be ending, and Representative Don Young from Alaska is spearheading an attempt to make massive changes in 2018. Many experts, including the Environmental Defense Fund, are opposed to the proposed changes.
After more than a decade of progress, 2018 is a pivotal year for food policy. We’ll be watching to see what changes this Administration and members of Congress offer up, and how the good food community responds to all attempts to roll back progress. 
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Katherine Miller is JBF’s senior director of food policy advocacy. Find her on Twitter.