Colicchio Castigates Congressmembers and Fishy Business in Trumplandia: Your Fall Food Policy Round-Up
The President and First Lady have been in Asia this week, where they were introduced to a very important aspect of the economy for many Eastern countries: aquaculture. They did not visit any actual fish farms, however. Their forays into aquaculture were of a more rarefied sort. There was, of course, a gaffe—though it was the media’s fault, for a change, not the President’s.
On Monday, Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe treated the President to a tour of the Akasaka Palace, where they were photographed tossing fish pellets into one of the koi ponds. Several media outlets reported that Trump impatiently dumped a whole box of fish food into the pond, and suggested the Abe, who had been gingerly spooning out a few pellets at a time, was insulted by his petulant act. Turns out that wasn’t the case: both spoon-fed the fish and then both emptied the remaining contents of their small fish food boxes into the water. The “fake news” was quickly corrected.
A day earlier, Melania Trump got her own lesson in another rarefied form of Japanese aquaculture: pearl cultivation. Akie Abe, the Prime Minister’s wife, arranged a tour for the First Lady of the flagship store of Mikimoto, a renowned pearl company, where she learned how oyster farmers insert bits of mollusk shell into their subjects to stimulate pearl production. Then the First Lady was introduced to a couple of women adorably-dressed in traditional oyster diving garb. “Wonderful visit w Mrs. Abe today!” Mrs. Trump wrote on Twitter. “Enjoyed conversation over tea & the cultural presentation on the history of pearls.”
Now that we’ve gotten the tabloid gossip out of the way, onto the serious stuff.
Sam Clovis Will Not Be the USDA’s Chief Scientist
Sam Clovis, the President’s nominee for the position of Chief Scientist at the USDA, was already having a rough nomination process. The former military man, conservative talk show host, and economics professor, who also served as one of Trump’s top advisors during the campaign, has nothing remotely related to either science or agriculture on his resume, for starters. Democrats were also giving him a hard time about being a climate change skeptic.
The nail in the coffin came at the end of October after his name surfaced in the special counsel investigation concerning Russia’s role in the 2016 election. Apparently, Clovis was one of the folks on the Trump campaign who was aware of contact other campaign personnel had had with Russian officials. With the nomination hearing scheduled for November 9th, Clovis withdrew himself from consideration.
Congress has allowed the political dysfunction of a new administration to not only prevent positive food bills from moving forward, but to roll back basic critical protections that keep our food system safe.
Chef Tom Colicchio’s Food Policy Scorecard Released
It’s that time of year again. Each autumn since 2012, Food Policy Action, an advocacy group co-founded by restauranteur and Top Chef head judge Tom Colicchio, rate member of Congress on their voting record on food- and agriculture-related bills from the previous year. Every congressperson is scored on a 100-point scale. Those that don’t vote in alignment with the organization’s social and environmental ethics are called out as “food policy failures.”
This year’s midterm scorecard showcased just how low of a priority food policy is at the current political juncture—there were only six bills to score, far fewer than most years—as well as the extreme partisanship that has taken Congress into its death grip. Usually, only a small number of lawmakers receive either a zero or a 100 score, but this year it’s shockingly black or white: 220 received a perfect score (all Democrats), while 130 (all Republicans) got a big fat goose egg. Overall, the average score declined to 49 percent from a respectable 57 percent last year.
“These scores are extreme because this is where Congress stands in such a turbulent political environment with a frustrating lack of bipartisanship on food policy votes,” said Ken Cook, co-founder of Food Policy Action, in statement. “Food policy is not a partisan issue.” Colicchio added: “We deserve better. Congress has allowed the political dysfunction of a new administration to not only prevent positive food bills from moving forward, but to roll back basic critical protections that keep our food system safe. This is unacceptable.”
Sustainable Agriculture Platform for Farm Bill Released
Somebody had to do it. With the Farm Bill set for renewal in 2018—a once-every-five-years event—it was high time that lawmakers were presented with a list of sustainable agriculture-oriented priorities to include in the omnibus legislation. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, an alliance of more than 100 organizations across the country that are “united in their values and commitment to promoting a healthier, more vibrant food and farming system,” is the obvious group to do it.
Highlights of the platform, which is informed by numerous “farmer listening sessions” that have been held over the last two years, include recommendations for expanding land access opportunities for beginning farmers and investing in public breeding programs to develop varieties suited to organic practices and regional conditions. The platform also proposes closing loopholes in the subsidy system that primarily benefit large farmers and taking steps to reverse the trend of corporate consolidation in the food system.
National Seafood Traceability Program Upheld in Court
“Big Fish”—corporate seafood interests, that is—nearly squashed what is arguably the most important federal regulation in existence for fighting seafood fraud and illicit fishing activity. After years of debate on how to prevent seafood caught with outlawed methods, in locations where fishing is banned, or, in some cases, by seafood slaves from entering U.S. markets—these shady activities are though to touch up to one third of imported seafood in this country—the National Marine Fisheries Service announced plans for a Seafood Import Monitoring Program in December, 2016.
In March, a consortium of large seafood companies filed a lawsuit to prevent the program from being implemented (citing burdensome compliance costs), an effort that was recently defeated through a counter-suit filed by environmental groups, including the National Resource Defense Council, Oceana, and Earthjustice. The new rules, which will go into effect on January 1, 2018, require importers to provide records tracing their seafood from the point of harvest to the point of entry into U.S. commerce. The first phase of the program will only apply to 13 species that are considered highly at-risk for illicit activity, including tuna, Atlantic cod, and red snapper. Further phases of the program are expected to cover all species, however.