In 2020, the world has been shaken by a global pandemic threatening everything from food access to health care systems. As the link between increased COVID-19 severity and overweight or obesity has become clearer, the focus on nutrition and food policy has heightened.
In the U.S. and abroad, authorities are moving to immediately address these converging issues to stave off long-term health and environmental consequences. With fewer than 100 days until the 2020 U.S. Presidential Election, we’re taking a look at how a Biden presidency might address these pressing challenges if elected.
While the following analysis is based on a potential Biden administration, it is not an endorsement of any one candidate or party.
THE BIDEN ADMINISTRATION: FOOD & NUTRITION POLICY
As U.S. food insecurity has risen drastically during the pandemic, Biden has made tackling what he calls the “hunger crisis” a key element of his platform. If elected, he has pledged to implement sweeping changes that would increase national access to nutrition assistance programs. These include:
- Raising Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits by 15%
- Providing a monthly stipend for nutrition support to low-income families
- Removing work requirements for SNAP participation and extending access to formerly incarcerated citizens
- Enhancing food relief opportunities at the state-level (e.g., increased supported for food banks, home delivery, etc.)
- Removing school lunch debt and expanding access to free meals at schools
- Implementing the Food for Thought Act to reduce food insecurity at colleges
Appointed staff also are influential in advancing federal nutrition priorities, and several members of Biden’s team lean toward novel nutrition policies in the U.S. For example, Senator Kamala Harris – Biden’s newly announced vice presidential pick – supports legalizing cannabis and incorporating sustainability considerations into the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Meanwhile, David Kessler, MD – a current member of Biden’s COVID-19 task force and former FDA commissioner – has supported progressive nutrition policy actions, from front-of-pack labeling to the development of a National Nutrition Institute that would prioritize food and nutrition research in the U.S. As such, a Biden Administration – through both presidential and staff action – could bring about a wave of nutrition activity in the U.S. similar to, if not more progressive than, former President Barack Obama.
THE BIDEN ADMINISTRATION: SUSTAINABILITY
Like his nutrition agenda, Biden’s plans for sustainability policy are expected to be much more progressive than those of the 2016-2020 Trump Administration.
In July 2020, Biden announced his plans for a $2 trillion climate strategy, to be completed over the course of four years. The broad-reaching agenda focuses on diverse areas, including the food and agriculture sector. If elected, Biden plans to immediately re-enter the Paris Agreement. He would also work toward net-zero total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. More specific to food and agriculture, Biden intends to:
- Invest in sustainable agriculture and conservation research, as well as technology like methane digesters
- Broaden the federal Conservation Stewardship Program, which provides farmers and ranchers with tools to enhance sustainable practices such as carbon sequestration
- Prioritize strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from land use
Several of these commitments appear to be informed by the work of the Biden-Sanders Unity Task Force – a committee organized by Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders to develop policy-based solutions for addressing the climate crisis. In July 2020, the Task Force released recommendations for mitigating the climate crisis and achieving “environmental justice.” The guidance asserts that if these recommendations are enacted, the U.S. will become the global leader in net-zero greenhouse emissions from the agriculture sector due to increased federal investment and a heightened focus on sustainable and regenerative agriculture, as well as local and regional food systems.
The Bottom Line: A Biden Administration would likely bring progressive food, nutrition and sustainability policy to the U.S. in short order, marking a stark difference from the last four years. These changes will present industry and cross-sector stakeholders with important challenges and opportunities and raise the bar for nutrition and environmental sustainability engagement and commitments.
For our round-up on recent updates to the Trump Administration’s food and nutrition policy agenda, please visit, “COVID-19: Implications to the Food Supply and Food Security in the U.S.”
Maura Killian, RDN is an account executive at FoodMinds and is based in Chicago. She is a member of FoodMinds’ food and nutrition affairs team, which uses global expertise to help clients navigate the evolving food landscape and prepare for the future. Contact us to start the conversation.