Though food regulatory issues tend to fall behind top-of-mind policy concerns — such as the overall health of the economy, unemployment, ongoing war in the Middle East, and the price of gas — on the campaign trail, the GOP presidential candidates have given hints about where they stand.
As this primary season continues to draw out, we thought our readers might enjoy some notable quotes and tidbits from the four remaining contenders for the Republican party’s nomination, in descending order of national poll ranking, according to Real Clear Politics’ average: Texas Congressman Ron Paul, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich of Georgia, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.
Ron Paul is easily the most vocal candidate on food regulatory issues on the campaign trail. The only candidate to have a published cookbook (“The 2012 Ron Paul Family Cookbook,” $8) — which features processed ingredients like instant pudding, Velveeta and Oreos — Ron Paul is a huge proponent of raw milk, an unprocessed food that has become a rallying point of the food freedom movement.
“Isn’t it sort of strange that we live in a country today where if you choose to buy raw milk, you’re inhibited by the federal government? I’m all for raw milk. I think you should make your own choice on whether you drink raw milk or not,” said Rep. Paul at a campaign stop in Iowa last year.
Raw milk is also a controversial food safety issue. The sale of unpasteurized milk, which federal public health officials consider dangerous, is legal in more than half the states and raw milk is available, through cow shares and other means, throughout the U.S. There is no legal prohibition against consuming raw milk, but interstate sales are barred and the FDA has recently cracked down on farmers for violating the law.
Rep. Paul has sponsored a bill in Congress that would legalize interstate sale of raw milk to remove what he believes is an “unconstitutional restraint on farmers.”
Favorite Foods: black cherry ice cream, Diet Coke, McDonald’s
This third place contender for the Republican nomination is no fan of regulations or the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Gingrich has taken many swings at the FDA, which oversees the safety of 80 percent of the food supply as well as drugs, cosmetics, and medical devices. While he was Speaker in the 90s, Gingrich often dubbed FDA “the number one job killer in America” and at least once called FDA Commissioner David Kessler a “thug and a bully.”
When asked, at a small campaign event in New Hampshire last summer, what role government should play in trying to prevent E. coli outbreaks, Gingrich seemed to have softened his tone. He said that government should work to incentivize food safety.
“If you run a 100 percent safe food program and there are no problems with it and you’re transparent, so electronically we can track all of this, we’re not going to bother you. And we’re going to focus government resources on problems. That’s a very different kind of outcome.”
Favorite Foods: chicken wings, chocolate
Santorum has been pretty quiet when it comes to food regulatory policy — other than vociferously advocating for food stamp reform — but he has an interesting record on animal welfare, which is often linked to food safety and quality issues.
According to a recent piece on forbes.com, Santorum not only received financial support from the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), a group that is very unpopular among agriculture advocates, but he actively supported animal welfare legislation while in Congress. In 1995, he held a joint news conference on puppy mills with Wayne Pacelle, who now heads HSUS. As recently as 2006, Santorum was awarded an 80 percent approval rating from HSUS on animal welfare issues.
Though certainly not anti-animal agriculture — he was named ‘Friend of the Farm Bureau’ and the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau — Santorum’s close ties to HSUS have caused considerable concern for farm groups.
Last week, Agripulse reported that in 2006, the lobbying arm of HSUS put out a press release that said “There is no stronger animal welfare advocate in Congress than Sen. Santorum.”
Santorum also voted in 2006 to ban horse slaughter, by defunding federally inspected facilities, diving into a controversial animal welfare/meat export debate.
Though Mitt has no food safety record to speak of (or that we could find), he has been clear about his regulatory philosophy.
“Multiple factors contribute to America’s faltering performance,” reads a Romney campaign document on regulatory issues and economic growth. “But a major part of the problem over successive presidencies, and one that the Obama administration has sharply exacerbated, is the regulatory burden on the economy. Regulations function as a hidden tax on Americans. Although their total cost does not appear anywhere in the federal budget, the multitude of rules, restrictions, mandates, and directives imposes stealth expenses on taxpayers and businesses and acts like a brake on the economy at large.”
The policy paper points to a study that found almost every aspect of daily life, “including how Americans heat their homes and light their rooms, what food they buy and how they cook it, the toys that occupy their children and the volume of their television commercials, are controlled by government’s ballooning compendium of dos and don’ts.”
Andy Puzder, CEO of CKE Restaurants Inc., which operates fast food restaurants Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr, is featured on Romney’s campaign website. Puzder backs up Romney’s vision of rolling back onerous regulations and argues that the restaurant industry is an “excellent example” of how regulations that get little attention can be damaging to an industry.
“We are not paving over the rainforest, or brewing toxic chemicals, or forging steel in blazing furnaces,” writes Puzder. “We provide fast, affordable, high-quality meals in convenient locations to busy customers. Yet we have an 11 page internal list that we use to keep track of the 57 different categories of regulation affecting the way we can operate our business.”
He cites building, environmental, illegal immigration, workers’ compensation, occupational safety and other regulations as barriers to growth. He adds: “Ultimately, government must choose between getting in the way and getting out of the way.”
(Hat tip to former candidates Michelle Bachman and Herman Cain for bringing up food safety on the campaign trail before they withdrew from the race.)