SPECIAL REPORT: The Food Industry Responds to Trump’s Victory

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14 Nov 2016 --- As the dust begins to settle following the most contentious US election in history, the global food industry begins to react to president-elect Donald Trump and his Republican Vice President Mike Pence taking the reigns for the next four years and what the immediate and future implications will be.

Just as with Brexit, immediately after Trump beat Hillary Clinton last Wednesday, currency markets were affected as investors steered clear of the US dollar - a sure sign of uncertainty. Unsurprisingly this was most evident in Mexico, where the peso took a severe hit, dipping by more than 13 percent in aftermarket trading, which was a record decrease since 1994. 

It’s too early to tell if Trump’s manifesto promises - the infamous wall, the highly controversial immigration policy and contempt for climate change to name but a few - will actually come to fruition, especially in the hardline guise that he pledged as a candidate. Indeed the Trump speech that directly followed his victory was his most statesman-like yet. But as of yet, many within the food industry and surrounding sectors believes it’s too early to tell exactly what this US administration will actually look like - and, more importantly, what policies the US can expect for food, farming, sustainability, labor workforces, labeling, immigration and so on. 

Questions about environmental issues like climate change are likely to be prominent - especially as in the past Trump has severely criticized climate change policies. Concerns for the food industry remain under question after Trump's new victory, with a widespread belief among anti-GMO activists that Trump is opposed to GMOs and favors labeling. This belief first arose in October, 2015, during the run up to the Iowa Republican caucus.

The New York Times reported that Trump is hoping to become America’s first fast food President. He has, on several occasions, posed for social media pictures with burgers and fried chicken from fast food chains on his private plane.

Then there is the US food stamps program, officially knowns as the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) which provides nutritional assistance to more than 45 million low-income families and saves children, the disabled and the elderly from going hungry. Prior to the election, the Democrats had supported SNAP calling to maintain or perhaps increase funding, whilst the Republicans have spoken about possible cuts to the program and possibly taking it away from the USDA.

Having said that, many organizations are coming out in support of the new Republican government and voicing their hopes for the future security of food production and agricultural policy - or at least diplomatically offering their congratulations and looking to build relationships with the newly elected leaders for the benefit of their respective sectors. 

A spokesperson from Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) told FoodIngredientsFirst: “The food, beverage and consumer packaged goods industry is a vital part of our nation’s economic engine, as the single largest US manufacturing industry with 1.7 million manufacturing jobs in 30,000 communities across this country. We look forward to working with the new Trump administration and the new Congress to continue the bipartisan support for laws, regulations and policies that enable us to continue providing Americans with the most safe, healthy, convenient and affordable food, beverage and consumer products in the history of the world.”

One that has been a supported from the start is Tom Nassif, the chief of Western Growers, the trade association of California, Arizona and Colorado farmers who grow, pack and ship almost 50 percent of America’s fresh produce. He says that like the silent majority of voters who elected Trump, fruit and vegetable producers want to see a functioning government which “mends broken fences”. 

“In the aftermath of a historically- divisive political season, we encourage our elected leaders to mend broken fences and redouble their efforts to solve the many challenges facing our country. Like the silent majority of voters who turned out at the polls all across the country, our members want a government that functions, one that is responsive to the needs of our nation and industry. We are optimistic that President-elect Trump, the administration he installs and the 115th Congress will work together to pursue pragmatic solutions to key agricultural issues, including immigration reform, water supply, environmental regulations, international trade and the farm bill,” he says. 

Nassif has been a supporter of Trump since the start of the campaign and pledges to stand by the new government and push on subjects critical to the fresh produce industry including water, immigration and environmental reform. 

Also congratulating the newly elected leaders is Robert Guenther, senior vice president, public policy, from the United Fresh Produce Association. He says: “United Fresh welcomes the opportunity to work with our newly elected leaders as we focus on key issues that impact our industry including food safety, immigration reform, nutrition, federal agricultural policy, international trade, and tax reform policy. We are honored to be your voice in the nations’ capital, working day-in and day-out in a bipartisan manner on an unwavering produce industry public policy agenda. We believe this is one of the most valuable strengths we offer to our association’s membership by bringing all friends to the table – Republican and Democrat, rural and urban, liberal and conservative. In turn, with any new election, our industry needs to continue building strong relationships and develop new ones that are vital to our success in enacting policy initiatives that promote our ability to deliver the most nutritious and abundant food supply to the American consumer.”

Echoing Guenther’s comments about bipartisan collaboration, is president and CEO of America’s National Retail Federation Matthew Shay. He says: “With the holiday season upon us, retailers are glad that this unprecedented election is over, along with the divisive rhetoric and the impact it had on consumers concerned about their future. It is time to bring all Americans together, working in a bipartisan fashion to address the pressing needs of the day.”

“The next few months will offer many opportunities for us to educate lawmakers on our priorities, such as tax reform and investment in our nation's infrastructure, as well as pro-growth policies that create jobs and reward capital investment. If this election taught us anything, it is the importance of focusing on policies and programs that not only benefit today's economy, but the economy of the future and our next generation of workers.”

Meanwhile Dawn Sweeney, president and CEO of the National Restaurant Association, says: “As the country ushers in new leadership in Washington, we will ensure that America’s restaurants have a seat at the table. As the nation’s second-largest private sector employer, restaurants contribute $782.7 billion to the economy every year and employ 14.4 million people in roles ranging from entry-level to ownership.

“Working with President-elect Trump, his Administration, and members of Congress, we will continue to advocate for Click to Enlargerestaurants, our employees and our customers. We are committed to working with both sides of the aisle to find solutions that grow our economy and help all Americans succeed in the work force.”

Meanwhile, others are a little less enthusiastic, offering a more philosophical approach. A spokesperson for the US global food processing and commodities trading corporation, Archers Daniels Midland Company (ADM), tells FoodIngredientsFirst: “At ADM, we have prospered for 115 years under 20 US presidents, and nothing in the US presidential election changes our positive outlook for the food or agriculture industry or for ADM specifically.”

Paul Collins, Director of International Sales and Marketing at GNT Group, also commented on Trump's presidency: “The food industry and therefore the ingredient industry is quite robust and not so affected by the swings and roundabouts of economic changes that other industries experience.”

“People will always need to eat and have the desire for it, so it will always be pretty solid, compared to some other industries,” he explains. “It is difficult to see how it will shape out in terms of trade agreements, but we are positioned to supply all of the markets and the best option is to have free movement of goods. But if there are changes to trade agreements that come into play, we will obviously just deal with them as they occur.”

Sue Pitman, MA, RD, FoodMinds Founder and Executive Vice President in the Washington DC office spoke with FoodIngredientsFirst and noted that the food and agriculture sector is now at a crossroads, domestically and globally. 

“Given the challenges inherent in nourishing our growing world population and helping people adopt healthier lifestyles and with all branches of the US government “going red” in last week’s presidential election, Obama’s food policy legacy may be on the chopping block,” she said.  

Under President Obama, America saw some fairly significant changes to food policies like banning trans fats, introducing farm subsidy reforms, reducing sodium and the GM food labeling bill that was signed into law earlier this year. 

When it comes to food policy, Donald Trump’s allegiances and inclinations are yet to be defined, but FoodMinds “expect regulation across all industries to ease up.” Food and how it’s grown has an enormous impact on the health, economy, environment and security of America. Pitman says: “Under the new administration, we expect to see many functions of food and nutrition policy to be reviewed and analyzed based on costs and needs. This in turn may lead to changes in standards, funding and requirements for national food assistance programs and renewed efforts to fight new food labeling rules.”

“Trump has a vision to slash regulations and re-negotiate trade deals to create jobs and support American agriculture growth through exports. And he has made immigration a major part of his campaign, which will impact migrant farm labor in ways that are yet to be determined,” she adds. 

Despite all of these anticipated changes, there is one thing both parties seem to agree on. According to findings of the FoodMinds Food Temperance Survey (2016), both Democrat and Republican opinion leader grocery shoppers support government intervention to improve the food environment. “While federal food policy stalls, local level activities are likely to become more active and we expect that best practices among community groups, local policy councils, and advocates will be successfully replicated across the country in other cities and states,” says Pitman.  

“Clearly change is in store for the US food and nutrition landscape. The incoming President isn’t likely to put food policy at the top of the national agenda, but we’re optimistic that another leader on Capitol Hill will step up to advocate for healthy, safe and sustainable food for all,” she states. 

The future health of Americans is undeniably important under a new President and as an industry, the global food sector is reliant on a stable and well informed leader. The hugely anticipated election has, of course, attracted public health scrutiny, uncertainty and criticism and once Trump takes up his new role in January 2017 this will certainly continue.

by Gaynor Selby and Elizabeth Kenward

To contact our editorial team please email us at editorial@cnsmedia.com

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