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.