Trump’s Border Wall Could Break the Food System

Within the first 10 days of his administration, President Donald Trump worked swiftly to enact many of his campaign promises, including one of the most bizarre and infamous: building “the wall.” Trump’s border wall is a terrible, no good, very bad idea for many reasons, but here’s another one: It could break the food system.

Large sections of the U.S.-Mexico border — about 700 miles in all — are, in fact, already fenced and patrolled by law enforcement. Around 11 million people in the United States are undocumented or unauthorized immigrants, including many of Central and South American origin. These individuals work, pay taxes, spend money on goods and services and contribute over a trillion dollars to the U.S. economy.

While many Americans associate agricultural, restaurant and housekeeping work with ”undocumented workers,” in fact, unauthorized immigrants work in a range of industries — and that’s in addition to attending school and caring for family members.

However, it’s certainly true that the United States heavily depends upon undocumented immigrants for farm labor. Somewhere between 50 and 70 percent of farmworkers are undocumented, and critically, legal residents and citizens don’t want their jobs.

Your food relies on inexpensive undocumented labor to reach your plate. Without workers, farmers will have no choice but to watch their crops rot in the fields, creating shortages that will hit the grocery store. But not all foods are created equal.

Fruit prices will likely start to rise first, followed by vegetables, because both are very labor intensive. Next will be animal products, beginning with dairy and moving to meat and eggs. Staples like grains and beans, which can be harvested mechanically, will eventually follow. On average, food prices could rise by around six percent.

Imported foods aren’t as subject to these circumstances, but their prices may go up as well — especially as dwindling U.S. supply puts pressure on imports to make up the difference.

These effects will hit low-income Americans especially hard. Many already struggle to get enough fresh fruit and vegetables in their diets, and these foods could turn into pricey luxuries.

That’s going to be compounded by another problem: likely cuts to government programs that help people buy food. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Plan (SNAP) is a common target for conservative cuts. Right as food becomes more expensive, people will have a more difficult time affording it.

These breaks in the food system could also be terrible for farmers. If producers can’t support themselves, they may end up selling out to large agricultural conglomerates who don’t have the same respect for the soil –  and the animals — involved in food production.

Building the wall could cost upwards of $50 billion, with additional annual costs for maintenance and staffing. And that will also impact the food system. With the government dedicating considerable funds to construction, it will be looking for other areas to cut spending.

For example, Trump also signed an executive order setting out the terms of a hiring freeze that will affect the civil servants who conduct food safety inspections, assist farmers with a variety of needs, administer agricultural grant programs and conduct agricultural research to improve the sustainability and efficiency of the food system.

This administration’s demonstrated hostility to science presents even more challenges for the food system. The U.S. population needs a steady supply of safe food, but it also needs production practices rooted in science in order to remain sustainable.

We must understand how to farm more holistically to protect resources for future generations, for example, which includes developing reliable low-water farming techniques in drought-prone agricultural regions like California. Science has also helped us develop farming techniques that protect valuable habitat and open spaces.

A better understanding of how crops grow has helped us develop more targeted techniques for fertilizing those crops, including investing in alternatives to harsh agricultural chemicals that harm people, animals and the environment. Science has contributed immeasurably to the quality, safety and sustainability of everything we eat. We must retain those gains.

Photo credit: Jonathan McIntosh

120 comments

Jerome S
Jerome S1 years ago

thanks

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Jim V
Jim V1 years ago

thanks for sharing.

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Siyus C
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thank you for sharing

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S J
S J2 years ago

What S a madness! Why should one thinks a wall can bar the dream for a better life?

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Kyle N
Kyle N2 years ago

It would have no effect on the food system. along the border where many vegetables are grown, need hand picking there are hundreds of mexicans that come across in buses with work permits to work in America and they travel back to Mexico at the end of each day.

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Marie W
Marie W2 years ago

Thank you for sharing

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Name S
Name S2 years ago

Unfortunately, people still believe in simple solutions of complicated issues.
"Let's kill all jews", said nazi. "Let's rob all capitalists and hung all priests", said communists. Easy! But what the people eventually got?

The wall will solve nothing. Most of the illegal immigrants came in the US legally and overstayed their visas. Since the 60s, the US has the broken immigration system. Unemployment is very low today, there is a severe shortage of STEM professionals. The consequences are inflation and home prices growth. WE NEED NEW PEOPLE for the economy to grow and affordable hope prices. But with the current system, it is much easier to be an illegal, use workarounds or Indian body shops then be a highly desired professional and get a work visa. And they now going to make it worse by cutting legal workers visas.

"Let's build a wall", said he. They will get a huge money for it. But what the people will get?

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Chen Boon Fook
Chen Boon Fook2 years ago

thanks

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Brett C
Brett Cloud2 years ago

Ty

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Brett C
Brett Cloud2 years ago

Ty

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