20 Science Questions

that U.S. presidential candidates were asked in 2016

Food

Agriculture as a business needs to be returned to the small farmer and having patents on seeds needs to be a luxury that is a choice for a few farmers rather than an industry monopoly.

     Farmers have saved seeds from last year’s harvest to plant for next year’s crop for thousands of years. It is not traditional to patent seeds and require them to be purchased each growing season. Regulations need to protect individual farmers not just corporations who produce agribusiness products.

     The agribusiness products already in use and new ones need to be evaluated for their long term impact on human and ecosystem health. If the business is in the business of producing food then the food ideally should be designed for nourishment for humans and animals rather than being a substance that is designed for ease of production but may be adding to chronic illness risks at least for some more at risk consumers.

    Impact of agribusiness products on soil health also needs to be monitored and health of soil microbes needs to protected for the farmer's current crop and for the future health of the soil. Overuse of agribusiness chemicals and mono-cropping can increase risk of erosion or desertification (increase in sand and salt content) of the soil.  

     Sensors are being developed with internet connections capable of sensing nitrogen levels for more precise application of fertilizers (excess fertilizers can cause more acidic wastes to runoff into the ocean).

     Agriculture industry workers are the ones most at risk for acute illness due to exposure to industrial chemicals. Should our food be raised in an environment that places it’s workers at acute risk of chemical injury? Or could our food be raised in more labor intensive but environmentally safe ways that create jobs?

     Farm subsidies need to be stopped or shifted to support more labor intensive vegetables and fruits rather than supporting big business commodity crops. Analysis of farm subsidies has not shown that they help promote more access to a healthy diet for low income consumers. Farm subsidies tend to support crops such as corn that are grown as commodities that may be used for biofuel or animal feed rather than for human consumption. [1, pdf]

     A tax code with incentives for hiring more employees, instead of supporting capital investments and depreciation of capital expenses, could help the small organic farmer.

     Inter-planting a few types of crops together can help reduce harmful weeds and pests without needing as many chemicals but the method is not possible with large scale planting or harvesting equipment.

     A mixture of large and small agribusinesses is likely needed for a future with an expanded population. Foraging animals can be raised in areas with soil that can’t support crops.  Studies into viable diets for a larger population suggest that an omnivore diet with less meat than currently is common would be more sustainable than an all vegetarian diet because of the areas that could support foraging animals but not crops.

     Research and development of large-scale production of algae crops for human and animal consumption  and production of other alternative protein sources (such as edible insects and cultured proteins) needs to continue until the alternative protein sources are cost effective to produce and tasty enough for widespread use as food substitutes, as the health of oceans and reliability of fishing industries may be adversely affected by climate change sooner than predicted. 

     Millions of people around the world depend on ocean foods for protein and other important nutrients such as iodine and selenium from sea vegetables. Reducing agribusiness chemical use on the land would be cost effective for the farmers and help protect the oceans by reducing the run-off into the ground water and coastal waters of the oceans.


  1. Food without Thought How U.S. Farm Policy Contributes to Obesity, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, ​http://www.nffc.net/Learn/Fact%20Sheets/Obesity%20and%20Ag.pdf

20 Science Questions for the 2016 Presidential Candidates  --by Shawn Otto for sciencedebate.org; See the questions here: #12.