by Marion Nestle
Feb 10 2014

We have a farm bill at last, for better or worse

On Friday, President Obama signed the Agriculture Act of 2014, a.k.a. the farm bill.

 The green object on the left is a John Deere tractor.  Why is it there?

The John Deere company:

The bill has 12 titles or sections:

  1. Commodities
  2. Conservation
  3. Trade
  4. Nutrition
  5. Credit
  6. Rural Development
  7. Research, Extension, and Related Matters
  8. Forestry
  9. Energy
  10. Horticulture
  11. Crop Insurance
  12. Miscellaneous

I took a quick look at what’s new in Title 4: Nutrition—the part that deals with SNAP.  Here are a few of its details [with my comments]:

Sec. 4001. Preventing payment of cash to recipients of supplemental nutrition assistance benefits for the return of empty bottles and cans used to contain food purchased with benefits provided under the program.  [This closes a loophole but hardly seems worth the trouble---how much cash is involved here?  And won't it be impossible to enforce?]

Sec. 4018.  No funds authorized to be appropriated under this Act shall be used by the Secretary for recruitment activities designed to persuade an individual to apply for supplemental nutrition assistance program benefits. [This one is especially troubling, as it eliminates USDA outreach activities to people who might be eligible for benefits but don't know about them.]

Sec. 4028. Nutrition education is to include physical activity in addition to healthy food choices.  [Translation: Focus obesity-prevention efforts on activity, not on making fewer purchases of junk foods and sodas.]

Sec. 4202.  The Secretary [of USDA] shall conduct a pilot project…[to] facilitate the procurement of unprocessed fruits and vegetables in not more than 8 States. [It's only a pilot program but it's to promote local farm-to-school programs! Score this one as a small win.] 

Sec. 4204.  Not later than the 2020 report [on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans] and in each report thereafter, the Secretaries [of USDA and HHS] shall include national nutritional and dietary information and guidelines for pregnant women and children from birth until the age of 2.  [I'm baffled by this one.  Current Guidelines apply to everyone over the age of 2 and already contain advice for pregnant women.  I doubt this is meant to make sure that the Guidelines advise parents to avoid giving sodas to kids under the age of 2.]

Sec. 4208. Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive.  This provides for competitive matching grants to increase the purchase of fruits and vegetables by SNAP participants.  [As discussed by Michele Simon and Daniel Bowman Simon, the bill does not necessarily favor local foods or purchases at farmers' markets, and the size of the incentive is unclear.]

Sec. 4209.  Food and agriculture service learning program…to increase capacity for food, garden, and nutrition education within host organizations or entities and school cafeterias and in the classroom.  The USDA is to award competitive grants to entities that have a proven track record; work in underserved rural and urban communities; teach and engage children in experiential learning about agriculture, gardening, nutrition, cooking, and where food comes from; and facilitate a connection between elementary schools and secondary schools and agricultural producers in the local and regional area. [This must mean Food Corps.  The bill authorizes $25 million until spent, but the funding is not mandatory.  Will it be funded?  Fingers crossed.]

Sec. 4213.  Pulse crop products.  The [USDA] Secretary shall purchase eligible pulse crops and pulse crop products for use in the school lunch program…[and] the school breakfast program. [Bean growers---soybean growers?---must be doing some effective lobbying.]

Sec. 4214. The Secretary shall carry out a pilot project in schools participating in the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program…in not less than 5 States, to evaluate the impact of allowing schools to offer canned, frozen, or dried fruits and vegetables.  [It looks like the frozen food industry is also doing some effective lobbying.  Frozen vegetables are fine, but not if they mean giving up fresh ones.]

—Thanks to Daniel Bowman Simon for pointing out some of these issues and for providing links to relevant sources.

Comments

[…] We have a farm bill at last, for better or worse […]

  • Howie G
  • February 11, 2014
  • 10:37 am

Wow – I know that you were cynical, but this is insane! I’m just pulling out 2 examples from your diatribe above:

“. Nutrition education is to include physical activity in addition to healthy food choices. [Translation: Focus obesity-prevention efforts on activity, not on making fewer purchases of junk foods and sodas.]” – so are you saying physical activity is not part of the problem? It’s not only about what we eat, but also how and how much we move. I think we all – you included – can benefit from a little more activity in our lives. And to put dollars towards education is a great first step.

“Sec. 4213. Pulse crop products. The [USDA] Secretary shall purchase eligible pulse crops and pulse crop products for use in the school lunch program…[and] the school breakfast program. [Bean growers---soybean growers?---must be doing some effective lobbying.]” – Do you have any idea how short people are with consuming recommended amounts of beans. I agree – we eat way too much soybean oil, and, unfortunately, most of the soybeans in this country are tainted/GMO. That said, why the automatic assumption that the USDA will only purchase soy beans and not other legumes? And, if they do purchase soy beans – there’s a world of difference with consuming the actual bean than the oil. Come on – I know you are smarter than this!

All I ask is that both sides – “you” and “them” – keep an open mind. The Farm Bill is far from perfect and I’m not happy with the changes in SNAP benefits and insurance to farmers. But, it is what it is, and instead of pointing fingers and complaining, how about we leverage it the best we can and do the most with it. For example – lets pressure USDA to use the “pulse crop product” line item to purchase a variety of beans. How do this? Parents need to take charge and speak up. Letters, petitions, social media – it is easier now than it has ever been. So why not provide this type of advice rather than stand on a soap box and complain about what’s wrong. We need people to guide the masses to do the right thing, not side line preachers…

  • Steffy S.
  • February 11, 2014
  • 12:35 pm

Agree with Howie G below that although the Farm Bill isn’t perfect we should be content with at least some change and moves in the right direction. We might not ever achieve everything desirable when it comes to nutrition policy so I don’t think it is necessary for you to have a negative outlook on the highlights you put forth. One of your comments in particular bothers me.

“Sec. 4214. The Secretary shall carry out a pilot project in schools participating in the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program…in not less than 5 States, to evaluate the impact of allowing schools to offer canned, frozen, or dried fruits and vegetables. [It looks like the frozen food industry is also doing some effective lobbying. Frozen vegetables are fine, but not if they mean giving up fresh ones.]” – Really? We’re talking about trying to get more people to eat fruits and vegetables. What is wrong with all forms? As a country we aren’t consuming the recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables to piloting a program to help achieve adequate intake should not be shunned. Do you really believe that we all have access to fresh fruits and vegetables all year? Do you really believe that fresh fruits and vegetables are affordable to everyone? Think about these things. Yes fresh fruits and vegetable are great but they are not always superior to frozen or canned that are processed at the peak of the season and retain much of the nutritional value that is often lost when fresh fruits and vegetables are stored for many days and shipped many miles. It’s hard to believe that you would really put down attempts to help people (schools in this case) increase access and potentially consumption of fruits and vegetables.

And another note…why don’t you ever respond to people’s comments on your blog. That’s not good blog etiquette.

  • Nancy K.
  • February 12, 2014
  • 11:09 am

You need to get your eyes checked. “The green object on the left is” NOT “a John Deere tractor”. Not even close. It is a Demco wagon. How much does evil lobbying does Demco do in Washington DC? Could your agenda be obstructing your vision? Get your facts straight before lashing out, if you would please.

[…] Marion Nestle gives her preliminary take on the just-passed Farm Bill. (Food Politics) […]

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