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Food Policy News: Week of March 27

  • The USDA recently conducted a study of SNAP-based incentive programs, those which increase the value of SNAP benefits at farmers’ markets through matching funds or another mechanism. The goal of the Farmers Market Incentive Provider Study was to explore who is funding, operating, and supporting these programs in communities across the US. Wholesome Wave provided a nice summary of the findings, largely from a series of interviews, demonstrating that these programs rely heavily on steady funding streams and partnerships with community organizations to sustain them. [USDA Economic Research Service]
  • Early evidence suggests that Mexicans are drinking less sugary drinks in the wake of the country’s recent soda tax, which took effect in January. In response to the peso-per-liter tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, beverage companies like Coca-Cola have passed the tax burden down to consumers by raising prices. Beverage sales are predicted to fall by 6-7 percent as a result. [Bloomberg]
  • A recent community poll in Berkeley, CA demonstrated community support for a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages – 66% of voters surveyed would support a penny-per-ounce tax if revenue went into the city’s general fund, and 64% would support a tax if the funding were devoted to nutrition and other community programs. The UC Berkeley student government also recently passed a tax on sugary drinks on campus to raise revenue for the student health center. [Berkeleyside]
  • The country of Denmark was able to eliminate salmonella in raw chicken by taking an upstream approach to food safety and adopting a “zero tolerance” policy. Human illness from salmonella is a huge problem in the United States, but taking a similar approach to Denmark isn’t feasible given the sheer size of our poultry industry (we processed 8.5 billion chickens in 2013), and the fractured nature of our food safety and inspection systems. A food safety overhaul in the U.S. is long overdue – but, in the meantime, I’d steer clear of chicken. [Food Safety News, Food Politics]
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Food Policy in the new year – 2014!

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  • After two years of struggle, a compromise Farm Bill passed in the House last week. Some of the major changes include $8 billion in cuts to SNAP Benefits, elimination of direct payments to farmers, and a bump in crop insurance payments, among other things. The bill also includes incentives for nutrition incentive programs and farmers’ market programs. [NY Times, NPR]

Update as of Tuesday 2/4/14 at 12:04pm PT – The Farm Bill just passed 68-32 in the Senate. 

  • San Francisco is preparing to put a 2-cents-per-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages on the ballot in November. Supporters held a kickoff meeting in SF this past weekend as they prepare for what will likely be a tough battle against the beverage industry, aka Big Soda. The finalized language for the ballot measure is expected to be released on Tuesday and will impose the tax on distributors (as opposed to a sales tax). On the other side of the Bay, the city of Berkeley is also considering a similar tax that will be a penny-per-ounce on sugary drinks. [SF Examiner]
  • The Navajo Nation recently passed a 2% sales tax on junk food, including sugary drinks. Navajos, as well as other Native Americans, are at particularly high risk for diabetes and obesity. The tax affects sales of junk foods on their reservation, which spans a large area across Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico. Importantly, the legislation also eliminates the sales tax for healthy foods as a way to incentivize purchases. [Food Safety News]
  • Drought conditions in California are hitting fruit & vegetable farmers hard. This marks the third dry year in a row, and the state has declared it will not be allocating water to farmers during the drought emergency. The drought conditions have been compounded by the lack of a Farm Bill, which would normally provide funds for disaster relief. [SFGate]

*image via Newseum

Save SNAP from cuts in House Farm Bill

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Have you been following the 2013 Farm Bill saga? In short, the Farm Bill (technically called the Food, Farms, and Jobs Bill) provides federal funding for a 5-year period that covers everything from crop subsidies, conservation, farmers’ market programs, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps). The SNAP program, along with SNAP-Education, makes up approximately 80% of spending in the Farm Bill. The bill, originally slated for renewal in September 2012 (yes, this should have been the 2012 Farm Bill), has finally made it past its first hurdle in the Senate.

Last week, the Senate passed a version of the bill that cuts $4.1 billion to SNAP over a period of ten years. The House version, headed for a vote this week, packs an even larger blow to SNAP – to the tune of $20 billion in cuts. More people than ever receive SNAP benefits currently (an average of 46 million every month in 2012) and these cuts are a major threat to the millions of Americans that rely on food stamps in low-income families and communities.

As the bill nears a vote either Wednesday or Thursday this week, we must act together in order to prevent cuts to SNAP and support food access for millions who rely on this program. Reach out to your representatives in whatever way you can and let them know that protecting SNAP benefits is of the utmost importance.

How can you help? First, you should participate in National Call-in Day TODAY, June 18, 2013. Then, look at the options below.

Call the toll-free hotline at 866-527-1087

Listen to the pre-recorded message and enter your zip code when prompted.  Once you are connected to your Representative, state that you are a constituent and give your name and the town you are calling from.  If you are a food pantry or other food distribution program, be sure to give the name of the local agency you are affiliated with.

Let them know you are calling about the Farm Bill and deliver this important message:

As your constituent, I am asking you to vote against the House Farm Bill due to the cuts to SNAP.  With so many families still struggling to put food on the table, it is important to protect and strengthen programs like SNAP and TEFAP.  I understand the need to reduce the deficit, but increasing hunger is not the way to do it.


Take it to Twitter:

Spread the word by sharing with your local networks and on social media to take action on preventing cuts to SNAP.

Sample tweets

  • Call Your Rep & Tell Them to Vote No on A Farm Bill That Cuts SNAP 866-527-1087. #SNAPworks
  • Fight Hunger. Tell Your Congressman to Vote No on A Farm Bill That Cuts SNAP. 866-527-1087. #SNAPworks

Send a Letter to your Newspaper’s Editor:

Draft, adapt, and send a letter to your editor using the framework below to illustrate how the SNAP cuts through the Farm Bill impact you and/or your community:

Dear Editor,

The US House of Representatives is currently debating the next Farm Bill. This five-year bill not only addresses agriculture policy, but also sets the policy and funding for the largest federal program the supports vulnerable families facing hunger – the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as Food Stamps.)  The current House version of the Farm Bill contains devastating cuts SNAP that would negatively impact over 2 million individuals that utilize the program to ensure their family has food on the table.

[Insert story of local impact here. Could be the story of an individual that relies on the program. Could be about how your food pantry has seen an increase in demand and cannot fill in the gap that the cuts would create.]
Our community and our country is only as strong as our programs that protect the most vulnerable.

I urge Congressman/woman [insert name] to vote no on a Farm Bill that cuts SNAP.

Sincerely,

(Individual or Organizational Signee)

For more information, check out the Food Research and Action Center. You can also contact your representative and senators through Feeding America (which also provided the toll-free number for National Call-In Day).

*above image and scripts provided by the HIV Prevention Justice Alliance

Nutrition & Health News, week of December 9th

  • Michelle Obama announced a shift in the priorities of the Let’s Move! campaign from promoting healthy diets to emphasizing physical activity for kids. Food policy expert Marion Nestle believes the shift is a bad move, and that FLOTUS has given up on lobbying the food industry and others to make healthier foods because promoting physical activity isn’t as politically loaded. [Food Politics]
  • In a landmark move this week, Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius overruled the FDA’s petition to sell Plan B (the morning-after pill) over the counter to girls under the age of 17. Research by the FDA had determined that girls under age 17 (the legal age at which one can purchase Plan B without a prescription) were capable of making an informed decision to use it appropriately without a doctor’s (or parent’s) guidance, but Sebelius disagreed. Notably, she called for more research on the 10-11 age group, even though only 10% of girls are able to bear children at that age. [The Atlantic Wire]
  • Loopholes in the regulations around SNAP (food stamps) allow  beneficiaries in some states to purchase foods at Starbucks, Taco Bell, and KFC. Should the USDA be able to restrict the use of SNAP to only healthy foods? [Obama Foodorama]
  • An article in Time Magazine offers reasons why a tax on soda would work. The author posits that taxes imposed on manufacturers (an excise tax) would force them to reformulate recipes to include less sugar or high-fructose corn syrup rather than raise prices for consumers. I’m not convinced that’s how it would play out, but we’ll have to wait and see. [TIME]

SNAP (Food Stamps) Benefits by the Numbers

Thanks to Professor Parke Wilde, who writes the popular blog U.S. Food Policy, for introducing my Food Policy class to this neat Google Gadget today. The graph tracks the changes in enrollment in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and unemployment in the United States. Press the play button at the bottom left to watch the trends in participation over time from 1990 through 2010. Notice the spikes in participation in bad economic times, like now.

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