Food Policy: Where Boring is Good

Jan. 6, 2021

There should be no Democratic or Republican path to a safe, reliable food supply.

As I write, violent protestors are storming the U.S. Capitol building, trying to overturn the result of the presidential election. So it’s fairly counterintuitive to say this, but here goes:

I look forward to a peaceful, gradual change in America’s policy toward the food industry.

There’s a saying in politics: “There’s no Democratic or Republican way to pave a road.” Meaning, the more technical, prosaic – OK, the more boring – a policy issue is, the less likely it is to be consumed by partisanship.

To a certain extent, food industry policy falls under that rubric. That’s one reason Scott Gottlieb was one of the most respected members of President Trump’s cabinet. Gottlieb, who served as FDA commissioner in the first two years of Trump’s administration, did things like restricting the marketing of e-cigarettes, pressing for GMO disclosure and adding categories to the Nutrition Facts panel. These are all positions that would seem to go against the anti-regulatory attitude of the Trump administration, but they stood because they made sense. (And, a cynic might add, probably because there wasn’t enough pushback from industry lobbyists.)

One encouraging sign, to me at least, that any change in food policy will be gradual, is Joe Biden’s naming of Tom Vilsack as agriculture secretary. Vilsack, of course, had that job under Obama. A former Iowa governor and presidential candidate, Vilsack can be counted on to change things but not blow them up.

Of course, there are differences between Republicans and Democrats on food policy, and those will endure. For one thing, count on USDA to reverse the Trump administration’s favoring of increased line speeds for meat and poultry plants. Rules that allow more self-inspection by plant operators, as a substitute for government inspectors, probably will also get a hard look.

But the point is that food policy is likely to be nice and staid and boring, as it should be.

Now, if the Trump people will only get out of the Capitol and let us have our country back.