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5 Food-Policy Questions for Minnesota Gubernatorial Candidates: Who Answers and Who Doesn't?

The big election news in Minnesota is the gubernatorial race. Whomever we choose to be our new governor – Mark Dayton, Tom Emmer or Tom Horner – will have to hit the ground running to balance the budget, work with an increasingly polarized group of legislators, and turn around an economy that has decimated jobs, home values, and funding for infrastructure, healthcare, and public education.

It’s also certain that our next governor will have a significant impact on the food that Minnesotans eat. But none of the three candidates are talking about this. Why? Before I vote next Tuesday, I’d like to know if any of these gentlemen make an effort to eat locally. Or if any have seen Food, Inc. or King Corn. Do any recognize the symbiotic relationship between agriculture policy and healthcare policy? And how much would the new governor use his influence to make positive changes in the way Minnesotans produce, market, buy and consume food?

A few weeks ago, at a food-related conference I attended, I discussed this with a woman who works for IATP. She said she doubted that I could get any of the gubernatorial candidates to talk about these issues, but that I should still try, because, in her words, “Then, at least, they’ll know there are people out there who think these things are important.”

So, a few days later, with her words ringing in my ear, I contacted Dayton's, Emmer's and Horner's communications directors via e-mail. I asked them if their candidates would answer five questions that would “inform our readers how [they] think about food-related issues, especially as they relate to the state's agricultural policies, food choice as a component of the healthcare debate, and the possibility of taxing certain foods, like soft drinks, that are known to cause health problems.”

Four minutes later, I got a reply from Matt Lewis, Horner’s communications director. He wrote, simply: “Sure, we can do that.” Great! One down, two to go.

Except that the other two never responded. Over the next 10 days, I wrote four additional e-mails and left a detailed voice message, but no one from either Dayton’s or Emmer’s camp ever replied.

So as much as I wanted to have all three candidates represented in this post, it was not to be.

What follows, then, are my five questions and Tom Horner’s answers, unedited, in their entirety.

*   *   *   *   *

Question 1:
Last month, the public television premiere of 
Troubled Waters, a University of Minnesota film about the effect of agriculture on U.S. waterways, was postponed by University officials because of criticism by some faculty members and staff that it "vilified agriculture." Yet others outside the university claim that it was corporate interests associated with industrial agriculture that stymied the release of the film. As governor, what could you do to help the University of Minnesota, as well as other colleges and universities throughout the state, get the funding they need so they don't have to rely on corporate donors who may unduly influence the effectiveness and credibility of their research?

Horner: "As Governor I will fund applied research at the University of Minnesota and other higher education institutions as a separate line item in the state budget. The additional funding will provide autonomy and insure credibility of all work coming out of our colleges and universities. Minnesota must truly be the Knowledge State. Innovations, new technologies and research that come from the University add value to the entire state."

Question 2:
The Federal Farm Bill subsidizes crops, such as corn and soy, which are manufactured into cheap and harmful food additives, like high-fructose corn syrup and partially hydrogenized soybean oil. But fruits and vegetables are not subsidized. What can the state of Minnesota do to incentivize farmers to grow real, healthful food, like fruits and vegetables, that everyone can afford to buy?

Horner: "I am the only candidate who has said the ethanol subsidies aren’t working and need to be removed.  Government can prop up an industry while it gets it’s a foot hold but eventually the subsides need to stop – especially when the product that’s being subsidized hasn’t panned. Minnesota needs a seat at the table during the Federal Farm Bill rewrite. We need to move away from rewarding high-production farming that forces farmers to take environmental risks and center on producing sustainable and high-value crops."

Question 3:
A few weeks ago, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down an Ohio ban on milk labels that read "rbGH free," "rbST free," or "artificial hormone free," because, in the court's words, "a compositional difference does exist between milk from untreated cows and conventional milk." As governor, would you veto a bill that would ban such milk labels?

Horner: "As Governor I would not support a bill that would ban labels on milk."

Question 4:
Two years ago, California's Proposition 2 passed with 64 percent of the vote. It required that all farm animals have room to turn around freely, lie down, stand up and fully extend their limbs. This applies not just to mammals, but, for the first time in state legislation, to chickens. As governor, would you support legislation that would provide the same to all of Minnesota's farm animals?

Horner: "Yes, I would support greater attention to the behavioral needs of all farm animals."

Question 5:
What do you and your family eat? How much of your diet comes from locally sourced, humanely produced, environmentally friendly food? Do you have any food vices?

Horner: "[My wife] Libby and I were part of a Community Supported Agriculture group until last summer. These are local farms that sell their crops to area families. Every week during the growing season we would get a basket of whatever produce was in season. We do try to buy responsibly.

"My food vice is definitely ice cream."

*   *   *   *   *

What kind of ice cream? Izzy's? Sebastian Joe's? Ben and Jerry's? It would be fun to know. I also wish Horner could have provided a bit more detail in the rest of his answers. But my request for follow-up questioning was politely refused; Lewis wrote, "Not much sleep during the final days of the campaign. I don't think I'll be able to get to Tom for follow ups."

Still, I'm grateful that the Horner campaign took time, less than a week before the election, to address some of the issues that are so important to SImple, Good and Tasty readers. To me, that says something. Thank you.

And to Senator Dayton and Representative Emmer, I have one final question:

If you are elected governor, would you please remember that there are a growing number of Minnesota residents who value a just, humane and sustainable food system that strengthens communities, protects the environment, and supports the good health of its consumers?

You don't have to answer. Just know that we're out here.

 

Top photo from The Uptake.


 


Shari Danielson
is a frequent contributor fo Simple, Good and Tasty. Her last post was Can a Locavore Eat Chocolate, Coffee and Bananas with a Clear Conscience?

Comments

It would be nice, next time, to get such a questionnaire out to candidates earlier, such that they might all actually answer. These last few weeks are too crazy for most campaigns to manage such a thing-- I know that Dayton's campaign has said that because the candidate himself likes to look over these things (as opposed to just passing it off on a staffer entirely), and because it's so late in the campaign, there's simply not time right now. I hope that Dayton will be good on these kinds of issues. There's certainly a better chance that he will than the other two, Horner's more or less good answers notwithstanding (Horner has longstanding ties to Big Ag).

Thanks for your note, Eric. You make a valid point -- the last few weeks are crazy for candidates, I'm sure.

Since one of the candidates did take the time to respond to our questions, we decided to let his views be known. I'd also love it if more readers made their own views known (as you have) as well. Thanks again.

-Lee

SGT, Thanks for publishing this information. I agree with Eric that we probably shouldn't jump to solid conclusions about the lack of response from other candidates, but I also really think it speaks highly for Horner's campaign. I also think this article shows that people just want responses. I bet I would have a different taste in my mouth at least something would have been heard from Dayton or Emmer -i.e. "Thanks for your questions. Unfortunately, our campaign team has no time to get to this before the election." Or something politicized all up but that basically gets that point across, I don't care. I just like to be acknowledged as a person who cares about my society, just as we are told politicians care. Certainly, getting answers is more satisfying and impressive than boilerplate, but at least it wouldn't be nothing. Anyway, I'm rambling, but I am glad to know this information just like I am glad to know all other bits of information that I assemble to make my election decisions. Thank you!

For the record: The first e-mail that I sent to Horner's, Dayton's and Emmer's campaign was on Monday, October 11, 2010 -- 22 days before the election. And the phone call that I made was on Friday, October 15 -- 17 days before.

Thanks for asking these questions, Shari. I've been wondering what the candidates' positions are on food/ag issues.

Though not one of the top three candidates, it would be interesting to hear how Ken Pentel, of the Ecology Democracy Party, responds to these questions.

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