It?s easier to make campaign promises than it is to legislate lasting change, which makes it difficult to compare John Kerry and George Bush as candidates for president. However, it?s worth taking a look at both candidates? actions and statements on issues that could affect the natural products industry.
Bush: The Bush administration has not taken an official stance on organic agriculture. However, last year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued three guidances and one directive that would have undermined the National Organic Program. These changes included allowing the milk of dairy cows treated with antibiotics and other drugs to be sold as organic beginning 12 months after the drug was administered, and narrowing the scope of the federal organic certification program, meaning that no standards would be developed for fish, nutritional supplements, cosmetics or personal care products. Public outcry eventually forced USDA to rescind the changes.
The Bush administration has also cut funding for the Value Added Producer Grant program, which provides capital for farmers to create new enterprises and cooperatives, and halted implementation of a country-of-origin-labeling program enacted by Congress. In addition, the Bush administration has adopted a policy that bars farmers from bringing suits against pesticide manufacturers when a pesticide or herbicide either harms crops or fails to work as promised.
Kerry: In his campaign statements, Kerry has supported organic agriculture and has proposed a federal insurance program to protect organic crops against contamination by genetically modified crops. Kerry has also proposed incentives for community supported agriculture; conservation incentives for family farms; implementation of the country-of-origin-labeling program for fresh meats, fish, fruits and vegetables; and increased funding for the Value Added Agriculture program.
Bush: President Bush has taken a strong stance in favor of biotechnology and genetically modified crops, arguing that the European Union?s rejection of GM crops is based on ?unfounded, unscientific fears,? and that rejection of biotechnology contributes to famine in Africa and elsewhere, which could be avoided with ?the most advanced methods of crop production.?
Kerry: Kerry is also a strong supporter of biotechnology. He argues that genetically modified crops will help ensure adequate, safe and sustainable food production. He proposes giving government agencies adequate power to effectively regulate GM food products both before and after market. In a Kerry administration, the level of support for biotech would depend in part on whether his appointments to key positions, including agriculture secretary, were pro-agribusiness.
Neither candidate has gone on record with a specific stand on the Dietary Supplements Health and Education Act. Under the Bush administration, Food and Drug Administration head Tommy Thompson has been instrumental in implementing a ban on ephedra products, but it is Congress that will ultimately decide what changes, if any, will be made to DSHEA.
Citizens for Health rates members of Congress based on voting records in two areas: ?Whole Person Health? and ?Ecological Health.? In the Senate, Kerry was seen as somewhat supportive of Whole Person Health, which includes legislation impacting access to dietary supplements, alternative medicine and medical privacy.
Though the dietary supplements industry has Democratic supporters, including Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa and Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, Democrats have traditionally favored stricter industry regulation than Republicans. Races in the House and Senate may have a greater impact on the future of DSHEA than the presidential race.
Bush: President Bush?s environmental legacy includes the Clear Skies legislation, which makes power plant emissions reduction a voluntary program, and the Healthy Forests Initiatives, a response to forest fires that allows timber companies free access to national forests previously off-limits to logging. Bush has also revoked Clinton-era protections for roadless areas and has proposed privatizing many National Park Service jobs. The Bush administration has also lobbied to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling to reduce dependency on foreign oil. Former Interior Secretary Stewart Udall says, ?This is the first administration in the last century that is clearly anti-conservation.?
Kerry: In Congress, Kerry has been a environmental advocate, and until this past session has received ratings of 88 to 100 percent from the League of Conservation Voters. If elected, Kerry has vowed to reverse rollbacks to the Clean Air Act and to implement a campaign to restore the 45 percent of American waterways that do not meet the standards of the Clean Water Act. Kerry advocates a tax credit for the purchase of hydrogen-cell vehicles and the development of renewable fuels, including ethanol and biodiesel. Kerry also calls for a $10 billion investment in clean coal use to reduce power plant emissions.
Bush: The Bush tax-reform package phases out the estate tax by 2010. Levied on all inheritances of more than $1 million in value, the tax has forced the sale of family farms and businesses. According to the Bush campaign, a study by the California Farm Bureau shows that, in cases where the principal owner of the farm died, 44 percent of farmers would have to mortgage their farms to pay the estate tax and 28 percent would be forced to sell all or part of the farm.
Kerry: Kerry favors a progressive tax structure and would work to reinstate the estate tax, while reducing the tax burden of middle- and lower-income households.
Bush: The Bush administration has opposed increases in the minimum wage and has reduced the enforcement power of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Bush repealed the ergonomics rule adopted by OSHA in November 2000, which was designed to reduce injuries due to repetitive motion. The administration also has proposed cuts for workplace safety enforcement and sought to limit the legal rights of workers with repetitive motion injuries.
Kerry: If elected, Kerry has promised to oppose recent legislative and judicial actions that weaken the Americans with Disabilities Act. He would also reform the H-2a guest worker visa program for immigrant farm workers and to pass the Agricultural Benefits and Opportunity Act to improve wages and working conditions for farm workers. Kerry supports increased enforcement power for OSHA.
Mitchell Clute is a free-lance writer in Crestone, Colo.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXV/number 10/p. 15, 22