U.S. presidential candidates tout produce credentials - FreshFruitPortal.com

U.S. presidential candidates tout produce credentials

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U.S. presidential candidates tout produce credentials

With the U.S. presidential election just months away, produce industry trade association United Fresh posed a series of questions to candidates Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. Topics ranged from immigration to food safety, and the responses varied despite some common ground. In broad terms, Romney's response was fairly supply-side focusing on death tax cuts and reducing red tape for farmers, while Obama was more demand-side highlighting trade deals to boost exports, and initiatives to raise fruit and vegetable consumption in schools. At www.freshfruitportal.com we take a look at the candidates' answers topic by topic.

Immigration

Both men were asked how they would eclipse the rhetoric that has dominated the U.S. immigration debate, and neither answered directly. However, Obama did highlight plans to enact comprehensive immigration reform, while Romney spoke specifically about how he would make immigration processes easier for farmers.

The incumbent leader said the immigration system had been broken for too long and reform was needed, but also pointed out illegal border crossings were at a 40-year low.

"“I support legislation – that until recently had bipartisan support – that would invest in border security, hold employers accountable and demand responsibility from undocumented immigrants while creating a path to legal status, and reform the legal immigration system to attract the best and brightest and keep families together," Obama said.

Romney discussed the flaws in the current immigration system that meant harvest seasons had often passed by the time temporary worker visas were approved.

"Indeed, in 2006 and 2007, 43% of all applications for temporary agricultural workers were not processed on time," Romney's statement said.

"As president, Mitt Romney will make the system for bringing in temporary agricultural workers and other seasonal workers functional for both employers and workers. He will get rid of unnecessary requirements that delay [the] issuance of a visa, and he will speed [up] the processing of applications."

Agriculture Regulation

Like on immigration, both candidates gave very different responses to the issue of regulation and what the roles of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) should be in horticulture.

Both said farmers were the best stewards of land but Romney was more critical of existing processes, saying that land use, water use, air quality and resource access initiatives were often dictated by staff level actions or NGOs suing the EPA.

"All of these activities occur with very little input from key stakeholders, including farmers, or with full transparency in the decision-making process.

"The inconsistent use of fully-vetted science to support changes in farming practices, as well as the lack of peer review or cost analysis, leaves farmers vulnerable to bureaucratic overreach, reducing their competitiveness in today’s marketplace."

In contrast, Obama pointed out agriculture had been one of the fastest-growing parts of the U.S. economy during his tenure, creating one out of every 12 American jobs. He said he had worked with farmers to identify and reduce regulatory burdens while streamlining federal oversight on economic activities.

He added that trade agreements with Panama, Colombia and South Korea had created tens of thousands of jobs by helping to increase exports.

Farm Bill

Obama highlighted the importance of specialty crops as "vital components" for the health and well-being of the nation, with fruits, vegetables nuts and similar products contributing US$18 billion to the economy each year.

"That’s why I have endorsed a farm bill [Farm Bill 2008] that recognizes the diversity of American agriculture and the importance of providing access to healthy products by supporting programs that focus on fruits and vegetables, nuts and organic crops," he said.

He said his administration had revised dietary guidelines to reflect the latest science on diet, health and physical activity, helping families make better food choices.

"And, we are ensuring children have access to more nutritious food by bringing more fruits and vegetables into our schools. Today, more than 31 million children participate in the National School Lunch Program and over 11 million participate in the School Breakfast Program."

Romney focused on the fact U.S. agriculture policy was evolving away from decades of government intervention and subsidies towards a more market-based system.

He recognized the importance of federal investment in initiatives that the government was uniquely positioned to take, including research on and help with pest and disease control.

"These are valuable investments that benefit both producers and consumers, and for which federal investment is necessary."

Romney he said he would pursue pro-trade policies encouraging all governments to promote free and fair competition, but he would not remove government assistance for U.S. farmers when other nations subsidized their own producers.

Taxes

On the tax front, Obama focused on taking estate tax rates back to 2009 levels, while Romney aimed to repeal the death tax.

Obama called to extend middle class tax cuts for the 98% of Americans earning less than US$250,000 a year; this is extended to 97% of all small business owners in the country.

"But at the same, we need to ask the wealthiest to pay their fair share," he said.

"I remain opposed to the extension of tax cuts for those with household incomes above US$250,000 and support the return of the estate tax exemption and rates to 2009 levels, which would return the top tax rate on estates to 45 percent and reinstate the US$7 million per-couple estate tax exemption."

Romney's said the death tax was a "huge burden" for farmers and needed to be repealed.

"Agricultural families have many of their resources tied to the land and limited liquid assets to pay exorbitant taxes when a farm is passed from one generation to the next," he said.

"These families are forced to close their business, sell their land, and eliminate jobs to pay the death tax."

Food Safety

When asked about the role of the federal government in regulating food safety, Obama cited his own record with the Food Safety Working Group (FSWG) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) procedures as examples of the benefits of the state's role in keeping food safe. Meanwhile, Romney took a more market-driven approach.

"Thankfully, American farmers and producers, specifically in the produce industry, have a long history of taking responsibility for food safety," Romney said.

"Governor Romney believes preventative practices are best developed by growers, handlers, processors, and others in the supply chain with specific knowledge of the risks, diversity of operations in the industry, and feasibility of potential mitigation strategies."

Obama emphasized his commitment to not making food safety regulations a burden on the industry, but pointed out the state of affairs with food safety was in need of improvement when he came to power.

"When I took office, our food safety system needed to be updated - 1 in 4 people were getting sick every year due to food-borne illness, and children and the elderly were more at risk. Each year, foodborne illness affected 48 million Americans, hospitalizing a hundred thousand and killing thousands," he said.

"We are looking for creative ways to coordinate with the food industry and take advantage of modern technology to achieve our food safety goals, including being able to rapidly and effectively trace contaminated foods.

"We are making it easier for farms of all sizes to reduce their own food safety risks by developing an online tool, which I encourage you to try. It is available at www.onfarmfoodsafety.org."

Nutrition

One of the starkest contrasts in the candidates' responses was on the matter of nutrition, which ultimately set out their ideologies regarding the government's role in steering people to eat healthier.

While Obama cited initiatives that had helped the produce industry - like the First Lady's 'Let's Move Salad Bars to Schools' initiative and the USDA's fruit and veggie snack program for schools and the MyPlate campaign - Romney gave a less substantial response about his own plans to boost nutrition through promoting fruit and vegetable consumption.

"The federal government should not dictate what every American eats," Romney said.

"However, Governor Romney understands that the growing obesity epidemic and its related health challenges represent a public health crisis for our nation.

"An emphasis on a balanced diet will be crucial to addressing this crisis and public health programs in a Romney Administration will highlight the importance of healthy eating."

Obama said as of July this year, 3,871 schools were recognized through the HealthierUS Schools Challenge for going an extra mile to increase nutritious food offerings, teaching kids about healthy eating and promoting physical activity, surpassing a 2013 goal ahead of schedule.

He also mentioned the Let's Move! campaign to help make communities healthier and the fact he signed the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act into law, making sure kids have access to healthier and more nutritious meals in schools.

"But there is still more to be done," Obama said. "In partnership with the private sector, we need to continue encouraging schools to promote healthy eating and ensuring students are offered food and vegetables every day of the week, educating Americans about the benefits of fruits and vegetables, supporting regional food hubs and the establishment of grocery stores in underserved neighborhoods, and researching effective ways to promote healthier food choices."

Photo: Fotolia, NCB

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