Eleni Fischer: National Food Policy Conference
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21 April 2017

Last week, I attended the 40th Annual National Food Policy Conference, organized by the Consumer Federation of America, in Washington DC. The conference was a great convening of people working in government, academia, philanthropy, for-profit, and nonprofit entities related to food. Keynotes and panels addressed wide ranging issues, including state and local policy, big data and food safety, hunger, infant nutrition, the Farm Bill, consolidation in the food industry, food waste, immigration, and disruption in the food industry.

The common threads that ran through the keynotes and breakout sessions I attended were uncertainty and the need for bipartisanship and collaboration in future food and agriculture policy debates.

The uncertainty theme relates to the fact that the new US Secretary of Agriculture has yet to be appointed, leading to a current stall on agricultural issues in Washington. Speakers from all parts of the political spectrum emphasized the need for collaboration and fact-based policy making on issues related to food and agriculture.

While I admired this universal push for collaboration and bipartisanship, I will be curious to see how policy debates related to food and agriculture unfold in the near future, including the 2018 Farm Bill, Child Nutrition Reauthorization, and other international and domestic food assistance programming.

A personally impactful session I attended offered an update by Robert Paarlberg on seven soda tax initiatives that have been implemented around the country. Some of these taxes were passed as ballot initiatives and publicized as public health measures, while others were passed through city council vote and marketed as revenue generating initiatives for programs like universal pre-K.

As more areas consider passing soda taxes, it will be interesting to see which message (public health vs revenue) is more salient, and whether there will be more intense lobbying efforts by the beverage industry to stem these measures from passing.

As the Trump administration’s food and agriculture policy positions become more defined, I look forward to seeing how advocates and experts working on nutrition, immigration, hunger, and public health issues, as well as industry representatives exert their policy priorities and whether the recent trends of the Good Food Movement become incorporated into federal policy.