The Case for Presidential Action to Reform our Farm and Food System (2016)

The US food system is in trouble, and it's time for our policymakers—starting with the president—to do something about it.

The current food system isn't working for Americans.

  • Too many of us lack access to affordable, healthy food, as evidenced by sharply climbing rates of diet-related illnesses like diabetes and hypertension, especially in communities of color.
  • Mid-sized family farms are dwindling, rural communities are hurting, and food system jobs are among the lowest-paying in the nation.
  • Outdated industrial food production methods are exhausting soil, causing costly environmental damage, and leaving farmers ever more vulnerable to climate change impacts like flooding and drought.

These problems are all made worse by the tangled mess of current federal food and farm policy, in which policies often work against each other. For example, on the one hand we spend considerable resources trying to encourage people to eat healthier food—and on the other, we invest billions of dollars in junk food by funneling the lion's share of farm subsidies to commodity crop producers.

The president could play a key leadership role in transforming this dysfunctional food system. Here are some of the ways this could benefit Americans:

What the new administration should do

For decades, taxpayers have paid for federal policies that have produced an abundance of commodity crops, but have failed to promote the health and well-being of all Americans. Special interests that profit from the status quo have exerted their influence to maintain it, blocking policy reforms that could bring about the kind of transformative change our food system badly needs. 

By taking action to promote such reforms, the president could show true leadership. Here are some steps that could begin the process:

1. In the administration's first year, take action on these priorities, which will benefit both rural and urban Americans and save taxpayer dollars:

  • Reform agricultural polices, subsidies, and supports to ensure fair markets and pricing for diverse farms of all sizes.
  • Increase children's access to healthy food and curtail junk food marketing to kids.
  • Support sustainable, diversified, and organic farming in all communities
  • End Fair Labor Standards exemptions for farmworkers.
  • Ban the practice of feeding antibiotics to animals that are not sick.

2. Coordinate efforts across federal agencies to reduce inefficiency, increase productivity, and develop policies that ensure every American has equal access to healthy, affordable food whose production is fair to workers and good for the environment, and keeps farmers on their land. 

The administration's leadership on this front will strengthen the health and well-being of Americans across the economic spectrum, improve farmers' and workers' lives and rural economies' vitality, and enhance the nation's overall prosperity.

Learn more: the analysis behind our recommendations

The policy recommendations we're making to the new president are well grounded in evidence. Here is some of the recent work we've done that supports our food system diagnosis and prescription:  

Subsidizing Waste: How Inefficient US Farm Policy Costs Taxpayers, Businesses, and Farmers Billions (2016)

The public pays twice for US farm policy: once to subsidize outdated industrial farming practices, then again to fix the resulting problems. We can do better. Learn more >

The Devastating Consequences of Unequal Food Access: The Role of Race and Income in Diabetes (2016)

Increasing access to healthy food could help reduce diabetes rates—especially for communities of color. But the solution is not as simple as "more supermarkets." Learn more >

Growing Economies: Connecting Local Farmers and Large-Scale Food Buyers to Create Jobs and Revitalize America's Heartland (2016)

Policies that foster the growth of midsize farms can bring a cornucopia of benefits: healthier economies, healthier food, a healthier environment. Learn more >

Counting on Agroecology: Why We Should Invest More in the Transition to Sustainable Agriculture (2015)

The science of agroecology can transform the way we grow our food in a more sustainable direction. So why are we investing so little in it? Learn more >

Lessons from the Lunchroom: Childhood Obesity, School Lunch, and the Way to a Healthier Future (2015)

Children need healthy food. This should go without saying, but the current U.S. food system makes it hard to ensure that kids get the kinds of foods they need to grow into healthy adults. Learn more >

The $11 Trillion Dollar Reward: How Simple Dietary Changes Can Save Lives and Money, and How We Get There (2013)

We all know that we should be eating more fruits and vegetables. But did you know that policies to increase production and consumption of these healthy foods could have benefits worth trillions of dollars? Learn more >

We Need Your Support
to Make Change Happen

We can transform the U.S. agricultural system to prioritize investments in healthy foods and farms —but not without you. Your generous support helps develop science-based solutions for a healthy, safe, and sustainable future.