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What President Donald Trump Will Mean for U.S. Food Policy

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The new president’s plans for farmers, workers, and food safety

Donald Trump Is Sworn In As 45th President Of The United States Chris Kleponis - Pool/Getty Images

Donald Trump made a few issues central to his campaign: immigration, taxes, and healthcare among them. Food policy has gone largely ignored, though Trump’s views on other issues and his Cabinet picks are already informing the way food policy will look for the next four years — and possibly beyond that.

President Trump has been especially vocal about immigration. His plan to build a wall on the southern border of the U.S. will likely hit the agricultural and restaurant industry hard. He has called climate change a “hoax,” which means it likely won’t be high on his list of priorities; this could be devastating for farmers.

When it comes to minimum wage, Trump believes it’s an issue best left up to states, while his labor secretary nominee has spoken out against raising the federal minimum wage above $9. And regarding employee benefits, Trump plans to repeal (and, eventually, replace) President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, but is seemingly in favor of paid maternity leave (though it’s unclear if that plan will cover single mothers).

Below, a closer look at where Trump and his Cabinet nominees stand on policies related to food safety, agriculture, and workers’ rights.

Labor

Minimum Wage

As a business owner, Trump has a spotty history with his employees. He’s been accused of stiffing workers out of wages and insisting that only young and attractive women staff his restaurants. Under President Trump, though, he and his surrogates say employees will have better access to child care and equal pay. As for higher wages, well, things are a bit murkier.

In the past, Trump has said the federal minimum wage “has to go up.” But the official GOP platform suggests that minimum wage, which restaurant workers around the country would like to see rise, wouldn’t be a priority of the Trump presidency: "Minimum wage is an issue that should be handled at the state and local level."

Meanwhile, Andy Puzder, Trump’s nominee for labor secretary and CEO of the Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s fast-food chains, has publicly opposed any significant hike to the federal minimum wage, calling California’s plan to raise its minimum wage to $15 “horrific.” If a fast-food executive takes the reins at the restaurant industry’s most powerful regulator, it’s safe to say the results won’t be favorable for low-wage restaurant workers.

Worker Benefits

Trump has repeatedly expressed his desire to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare and a provision that many restaurant workers say is crucial to maintaining their everyday well-being. The Senate has already taken the first step toward repealing it. Beyond promising to repeal the ACA, Trump has given mixed messages on universal healthcare: He previously stated he will not require everyone to buy health insurance unless they want it, but more recently stated that his Obamacare replacement will provide “insurance for everybody.”

Meanwhile, labor secretary nominee Puzder has expressed opposition to paid sick leave and the ACA, arguing that they’re costly to employers and could put an end to “the traditional full-service restaurant model” (which is why he’s interested in opening an automated restaurant free of human workers).

Parental Leave

Trump has also proffered a paid maternity leave proposal, though some reports have suggested that plan would not extend to single mothers. When introducing her father at the Republican National Convention, Ivanka Trump said he would “change the labor laws that were put into place at a time when women were not a significant portion of the workforce.” It’s worth noting, however, that Trump hasn’t expounded on those plans other than making vague references to childcare and equal pay.

Food Safety

Trump, a self-described germaphobe, has an affinity for fast food and has been photographed dining on buckets of KFC fried chicken and McDonald’s hamburgers. Those meals are certainly not the most nutritious choices for someone who has made his opponent’s health a central part of his campaign but — maybe even stranger — he apparently chooses fast food because it’s “cleaner” than food from non-chains.

Trump elaborated on those views in a February interview with Anderson Cooper: “I think you’re better off going there than someplace you have no idea where the food is coming from. It’s a certain standard. The one thing about the big franchises: one bad hamburger, you can destroy McDonald’s. One bad hamburger, you take Wendy’s and all these other places and they’re out of business.”

Later that same month, however, he unveiled a plan that would effectively slash food safety regulations in the United States.

Trump’s tax plan, which was highlighted in a speech to the Economic Club of New York in Manhattan, would limit the scope of what he calls “the FDA Food Police.” The FDA is otherwise known as the Food & Drug Administration, the entity tasked with protecting public health and the nation’s food supply. Republicans argue that stringent rules are a burden on businesses and job creation; others argue FDA regulations are necessary to ensure the health and safety of Americans.

A campaign fact sheet released last September (which has since been removed from the Trump website) suggested FDA regulations go too far in governing “the soil farmers use, farm and food production hygiene, food packaging, food temperatures and even what animals may roam which fields and when.” According to Trump, the agency also “greatly increased inspections of food ‘facilities,’ and levies new taxes to pay for this inspection overkill.”

While Trump has yet to put forth an official nominee for head of the FDA, a rumored pick, a Silicon Valley investor named Jim O’Neill, has no experience in the medical field and has previously made some controversial statements regarding the FDA’s role. In a 2014 speech, he argued that the FDA should not consider whether drugs are effective before approving them for use in the U.S., and instead should only evaluate them for safety. O’Neill would mark a sharp left turn for the FDA, which has been headed up by scientists or doctors for the past 50 years.

Agriculture

Migrant Farm Workers

Immigration was central to the Trump campaign, with shouts of “Build that wall!” often permeating his rallies. Trump intends to build a wall on the southern border of the U.S. that he says will keep undocumented immigrants out of the country. He’s argued time and again that Mexico will pay for the wall, though Mexico’s president has vehemently denied that:

Since winning the election, Trump has backtracked on that somewhat: Now it appears U.S. taxpayers will be footing the upfront cost for it, though Trump promises Mexico “will reimburse us for the cost of the wall,” potentially through import taxes that could have serious economic consequences.

Trump’s immigration policies would likely do have a negative effect on more than just immigration numbers (though some argue it wouldn’t even do that). As most of the produce grown in the U.S. is picked by undocumented workers, many farmers have said a Trump presidency could decimate American crops.

Farmers

According to a 2014 study commissioned by the American Farm Bureau Federation, an immigration policy focused on closing the border would not only send jobs out of the U.S., it could be detrimental to U.S. farmers. That “impenetrable, physical, tall, powerful, beautiful, southern border wall” could lead to: a three percent reduction in grain production; a 27 percent reduction in meat production; a 31 percent drop in vegetable production; and a 61 percent drop in fruit production.

Closing the border would lead to a large-scale restructuring of agriculture: wages would go up as a result, and farmers could face the loss of 30 to 40 percent of their net revenues due to lower production and higher costs. Consumers could see food prices go up some five to six percent, and face smaller supplies of fresh products at the grocery store. The greatest change, according to the AFBF, would be to fruit, vegetables, meat, and dairy products.

Like most conservatives, though, Trump says he wants to fight against regulations, a message that’s largely resonated with farmers. During an October roundtable with a group of Florida farmers, Trump called the Environmental Protection Agency "a disaster" whose "regulations have been a total catastrophe."

Trump’s pick for agriculture secretary, Sonny Perdue, is the former governor of Georgia and has a strong farming background. (Perdue made headlines back in 2007 when, in the midst of a record-setting Georgia drought, he led a group at the state capitol building in praying for rain.) Having supported legislation in his home state aimed at cracking down on undocumented immigrants, Perdue would likely align with Trump’s proposed immigration policies.

The AFBF is pleased with Perdue’s nomination, saying, “He is a businessman who recognizes the impact immigration reform, trade agreements, and regulation have on a farmer’s bottom line.” Meanwhile, multiple environmental groups have spoken out against Perdue’s nomination, arguing that he’ll put the interests of big farming conglomerates over the concerns of small independent farmers.

Government Food Assistance

The funding of government food assistance programs, like SNAP, or the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (previously referred to as food stamps), hangs in the balance.

SNAP is funded via the Farm Bill, a massive piece of legislation passed roughly every five years. The marriage between SNAP and the Farm Bill, which funds subsidies for both agriculture and food stamps, has long been an uneasy one, as Harvest Public Media reported back in 2014.

Donald Trump’s 2016 Republican platform calls for breaking the SNAP program away from the Farm Bill, a move largely consistent with the Republican stance on SNAP funding. But, as Politifact notes, taking SNAP out of the Farm Bill would make it more vulnerable to budget cuts.

Climate Change

During a speech in North Dakota in May, Trump promised to rescind many of the Obama administration’s most ambitious environmental goals. A Trump administration, he said, would call for more fossil fuel drilling and fewer environmental regulations. In his first 100 days in office, he would “rescind” President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which aims to cut carbon pollution from existing power plants.

Which brings us to climate change. During one presidential debate, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton said that Trump believes climate change to be a hoax — one perpetrated by the Chinese, no less. Trump claimed that he “did not say” those words, though this 2012 tweet indicates otherwise:

According to the EPA, changes in the frequency and severity of droughts and floods — brought on by climate change — could pose challenges for farmers and ranchers and threaten food safety. Severe weather has a profound impact on some of America’s most important food-producing regions. Beef prices, for instance, shot up by 34 percent from 2010 to 2014, largely due to droughts in the cattle-producing states of California and Texas, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Economic Research Service data. Warming temperatures also threaten tea and coffee yields.

Trump’s nominee to head up the EPA, Scott Pruitt, does not agree that climate change is a hoax, but when pressed in confirmation hearings he also would not say that it’s mainly caused by humans. Pruitt has sued the EPA more than a dozen times as Oklahoma attorney general in (mostly unsuccessful) attempts to block clean air and water regulations. His supporters say he’ll help ease unnecessary environmental regulations that are burdensome on farmers and small business owners, but opponents argue Pruitt’s ties to the oil and gas industry mean he’ll irresponsibly roll back rules that protect human health and safety.

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