WASHINGTON, Oct. 21, 2015 – Three-fourths of American voters want the federal government to incentivize sustainable farming practices, according to a food policy survey released Tuesday. And now, Food Policy Action, a group that advocates for transparency in food systems, and the Union of Concerned Scientists want 2016 presidential candidates to listen to the public and take a stand on food policy.

“It’s time for a change. We need a new set of government policies and public investment that will lead to better outcomes for public health, the environment, workers and people in both rural and urban communities,” Ricardo Salvador, UCS’s food and environment program director, said on a conference call with reporters Tuesday.

“We know better than what we’re doing. The next president needs to put reforming the food system at the fore of her or his policy agenda,” Salvador said as he formally introduced the Plate of the Union campaign, which challenges presidential candidates to articulate their positions on food policy. The initiative is the work of UCS, FoodPolicy Action and the HEAL Food Alliance.

If the candidates pledge to reform food policy, there will be plenty of public support, said Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, who was also on the call. Pingree, an organic farmer, said many of the letters her office receives are from constituents concerned about agricultural and food policy issues.

“I’m on the ground, I hear about (these issues) all the time” from people who “care deeply” about, and “are very well educated” on food policy, she said. “I’m just thrilled that the data is even stronger than I would (have) expected.”

For the survey, Lake Research Partners and Bellwether Research and Consulting polled 1,000 registered voters who said they were likely to vote in the 2016 election over the phone in mid-September.

Forty-five percent of the survey participants indicated their top “food system” priority was to make healthier foods more affordable. And more than half – 53 percent – said changing government policy was key to making “healthy and nutritious foods more affordable for every American.”

Seventy-five percent of participants said they favored instituting government incentives for sustainable farming practices “that protect the environment.” When broken down by political party, 85 percent of Democrats supported increasing sustainable ag subsidies, as did 77 percent of Independents and 62 percent of Republicans.

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Respondents were divided on whether large farm businesses should be subsidized. Notably, the survey participants weren't given a definition for "large farm," because, a spokesman for Food Policy Action told Agri-Pulse, "a precise definition wouldn't be particularly meaningful to laypeople." Some 49 percent of Democrats said large farmers should receive less government support, and 53 percent of Independents and 50 percent of Republicans said the same.

When the survey responses were parceled out by age, race and marital status, it was clear that some of the 2016 election’s most important voting groups – young people, people of color, and single women – have strong opinions on agriculture.

For instance, 76 percent of voters under 30 and 87 percent of voters between 30 and 39 supported government incentives for sustainable agriculture. Eighty-five percent of African Americans, 82 percent of Latinos, and 74 percent of unmarried women indicated the same.

And when it came to limiting subsidies for big farms, 55 percent of the under 30 crowd and 65 percent of voters between 30 and 39 said it was the right way to go. Fifty-three percent of unmarried women and 54 percent of African Americans and Latinos agreed.

People want to know where subsidies are going and they want to know where the presidential candidates stand on the issue, Pingree said. “People are very frustrated with their elected officials… and this is one of those topics” they want to see “something get done.”


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