Happy New Year! I hope you had a great party and/or a relaxing night to celebrate the new year, whichever you prefer. Although it does seem like an arbitrary cut in time, the New Year always gives a great opportunity to reflect on the past and focus on the future. Without further ado, here is what I see on the 2015 food policy agenda so far. Please comment with additions if you know of more large-scale issues that will come up!
Bonus: Check out my 2014 edition to see what was true, what was missing, and what is still on the table 🙂
USA: The new political balance of power between Democrats and Republicans bodes ominous changes in American food and nutrition policy.
According to Politico, the new Republican congress is preparing a number of initiatives to undo the strides taken by the Obama administration in the past year in the food policy realm: it starts with goals to loosen the requirements on whole grain and sodium content in school lunches – but in fact, the entire reauthorization of the 2010 Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act probes to become controversial as the leading politicians working on the school nutrition programs are fiercely critical of government involvement in school menus. As the legislative review pitches different lobby groups against each other, from cafeteria professionals to nutritionists and the produce industry, the fight is gearing up to be interesting for sure.
The FDA might also be challenged in its final rule to require caloric labeling for a broader range of products than ever before, including alcoholic beverages as well as products sold in grocery and convenience stores. The “Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act”, currently under consideration, aims to roll back some of the new rules. Also, FDA proposals on added sugar and GMO labeling, as well as salt content reductions, are expected to come under fire.
Finally, the next issue of the Dietary Guidelines is expected in the fall, recommendations which are also keenly political as the government’s endorsement of particular food groups over others can create windfall profits or losses for producers of these foods.
European Union: The EU food policy agenda equally seems to be in a period of recession in 2015: the new Commission’s work programme for 2015 places its priorities in jobs, growth and incentivizing the digital economy, with little importance given to agricultural issues. In fact, under the aim to cut red tape and simplify the Commission’s work, a number of pending legislative proposals related to food policy were withdrawn or significantly reworked. The heavily debated proposal for a new organic legislation was given a 6 months sunset clause – if no significant progress or agreement is reached, it will be withdrawn by the end of June. Work on revising the school food scheme, which aims to provide fruit, vegetables and milk in educational institutions, was halted and is supposed to be evaluated for subsidiarity and simplification within the Common Agricultural Policy. The controversial seed proposal, after being rejected by the European Parliament, was completely withdrawn in response to the Parliament’s request to do so in September 2014. And finally, the circular economy proposal, which was supposed to address packaging waste and recycling, was withdrawn entirely “to be replaced by a more ambitious proposal by the end of 2015”. Let’s hope that happens. In any event, the Latvian Council presidency put the organic proposal as well as the evaluation of the school food scheme on its list of priorities, so there is hope for some progress.
Trade: One of the review articles I recently read said “the history of trade negotiations is that they always take longer than anticipated, so we may have to revisit the topic a year from now.” This seems accurate since the same exact topic from last year is on the agenda again – notably, the big trade deals that are still being negotiated. CETA (Canada-EU) is being finalized, TTIP (US-EU) and TPP (US-Asia) are making significant progress, and even steps forward in the Doha Round seem possible after the US and India have agreed on food security. However, how far food issues will be touched in some of these trade deals is still in question – the European Parliament at least is asking a lot of in-depth questions on consequences for EU food safety and environmental standards in relation with TTIP, and public opinion also seems against adjusting standards to the bottom. TBC.
Climate change: As we recently discussed, climate change policy still only touches upon agriculture very lightly. Yet, as political leaders decided in Lima to come forward with their national mitigation and adaptation targets and proposals, I am curious to see which nations will also include their agricultural sector, and to which extent. These commitments in turn will be formally agreed on in December in Paris, and the climate change adaptation fund at the disposal of developing countries (with a target of $100 billion) might be a new source of funding for a number of projects to improve the resilience of smallholder farmers in the face of climate change.
Sustainable Development Goals: This is the big question for the development community – as the Millennium Development Goal target year of 2015 is reached, the international community is gearing up to agree upon “sustainable development goals” to move beyond 2015. This has been notably difficult, as the goals are much less clear-cut than before – what does “sustainability” even mean, in particular in the context of development? Over the past year, the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals has proposed 17 goals and 169 targets, to be adopted in September 2015 in New York. You can read more about the proposed “road to dignity by 2030” in the synthesis report of the Secretary General here. Furthermore, in August the Intergovernmental Committee of Experts on Sustainable Development Financing presented their report on how these projects should be financed; read more about it here.
FAO: And don’t forget about the International Year of Soils proclaimed by the FAO! Again, all events and infos can be found on their website here.
Did I forget anything? What are you most curious to see play out? What food policy issues are on the agenda in your country?