Debates hit raw nerves for food sector

by Josh Sosland
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Given the intensity of the debate during the past 12 months over the need to reduce federal budget deficits, considerable discussion during this presidential campaign season could have been anticipated over issues of interest to baking, such as farm programs (including the sugar program) and ethanol subsidies. These subjects have barely been touched on, while others in their place hit uncomfortably close to grain-based foods.

In recent days, Newt Gingrich has cast President Obama as “The Food Stamp President,” noting spending on the program has increased 50% since the president took office. The attacks, controversial for a variety of reasons, put in a poor light the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, a program stimulative to the economy, helpful to those in need and beneficial to baking. Importantly, SNAP is supported by a majority of Americans from each political party.

Perhaps equally worrying has been rhetoric from Mr. Gingrich and others criticizing the tenure of Governor Mitt Romney at Bain Capital. The populist attacks against investments in distressed companies strike a familiar tone for grain-based foods.

Belittling and even excoriating the role of such investments are but a stone’s throw from other favored populist targets — agricultural futures markets and the role of speculators in price discovery. Mr. Romney is right to express astonishment that these attacks are coming from his fellow Republicans, and one can only hope, perhaps naively, that the dialogue will move in a more constructive direction in the weeks and months ahead.

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