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Five food policy issues to listen for on Tuesday

The State of the Food Movement is, as you would expect, hungry for action. There is a lot on the President’s plate: immigration, climate change, and trade, to name a few. But one important public policy issue will be served on the side of almost every major debate in 2015: Food.

No president in recent memory has had more pressing food policy issues on his calendar than President Obama. The next year will be big in the world of food and agricultural politics and many of the Food Movement’s priorities will come to a head in 2015.

{mosads}Here are five things food policy experts will be listening for in the President’s State of the Union.

1) Child Nutrition: One of the biggest food fights this year will be over reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act, which helps ensure that low-income children have access to healthy and nutritious foods. Expiring in September, many Republicans have been openly critical. Expect major debate around serving standards for fruits and vegetables, as well as nutrition standards for sodium, fat and sugar content. First Lady Michelle Obama has been one of the country’s most vocal advocates for child nutrition and if the President wants a healthy legacy, it’s not too early to stake out his position.

2) Labeling Genetically Engineered Foods: In 2007, Candidate Obama pledged to give consumers the right to know if their food is genetically engineered (GE or GMO). In 2015, GMO labeling remains one of the most supported food policy issues in the country. Unlike 64 countries around the world –including all of our major trading partners in Asia and the European Union– the United States does not require labeling GMOs. Connecticut, Maine and Vermont have already passed mandatory labeling laws with many more states expected to introduce bills this year. And despite multinational agribusiness and food companies spending over $100 million opposing state ballot initiatives, GMO labeling continues to poll extremely high. As the first state law is set to go into effect in less than 18 months, pressure is growing for the Food and Drug Administration to decide if it will come up with national labeling standards. Competing legislation is also expected to come to a head this Congress and the president won’t be able to stay silent much longer.

3) Trade: Trade negotiations with Asian and European partners will heat up in 2015. Expect to see much debate around GE labeling and food safety issues, including the routine use of antibiotics, feed additives and pharmaceutical drugs used for growth promotion. Also expect heavy debate around protected geographic indications (ie. regional food names) as well as standards regarding mad cow disease, listeria and E. coli. If the President seeks to push trade in his speech, will he address the critics in his own party who fear a race to the bottom?

4) Climate Change: Last year Obama’s speech made headlines when he vowed to act on climate change, yet the role of industrial agriculture has been left out of the president’s agenda for curbing greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). The food system as a whole contributes up to 50% of greenhouse gases. Lobbyists for “Big Ag” as well as owners of the nation’s largest industrial farms and CAFOs would like to see agriculture left out of the equation. However if the president is going to get serious about tackling the climate crisis he must lay out a plan for addressing the role of agriculture.

5) Pollinator Health: Last June, the White House established a “Pollinator Health Task Force” after identifying dramatic pollinator declines as a threat to the sustainability of our food system, our agricultural economy and the health of the environment. One-third of global food production depends on pollination by bees and pollinators provide $24 billion annually to the U.S. agricultural economy. Yet the indiscriminate use of a toxic class of insecticides called neonicotinoids remains one of the leading culprits of pollinator declines. Is the president ready to take on “Big Chemical” or will his administration continue to watch as pollinator declines worsen?

O’Neil is the director of Government Affairs at Center for Food Safety.

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