by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: USDA

Dec 6 2017

Orwell-speak from USDA: new SNAP rules

The USDA, straight out of George Orwell’s 1984, has promised “new SNAP flexibilities to promote self-sufficiency.”

What does USDA mean by “flexibilities”?  Here are its exact words (I put the key words in quotes and in bold for emphasis:

  • “Self-Sufficiency” – The American dream has never been to live on government benefits. People who can work, should work. We must facilitate the transition for individuals and families to become independent, specifically by partnering with key stakeholders in the workforce development community and holding our recipients accountable for personal responsibility.
  • “Integrity” – We must ensure our programs are run with the utmost integrity. We will not tolerate waste, fraud, or abuse from those who seek to undermine our mission or who do not take their responsibility seriously.
  • “Customer Service” – Together, we must ensure that our programs serve SNAP participants well. In order to achieve a high degree of customer service, we at FNS must also provide States the flexibility to test new and better ways to administer our programs, recognizing that we are all accountable to the American taxpayer for the outcomes.

Why the quotes?  Because the words mean anything but what they say.  Hence: Orwellian.

This is the USDA’s first attack on SNAP.  Prediction: more to come.

Tags: ,
Dec 4 2017

USDA makes school meals more flexible (translation: less nutritious)

The USDA announces its revised school meal rules, in words that would make George Orwell proud:

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today provided local food service professionals the flexibility they need to serve wholesome, nutritious, and tasty meals in schools across the nation. The new School Meal Flexibility Rule…reflects USDA’s commitment, made in a May proclamation to work with program operators, school nutrition professionals, industry, and other stakeholders to develop forward-thinking strategies to ensure school nutrition standards are both healthful and practical…This action reflects a key initiative of USDA’s Regulatory Reform Agenda, developed in response to the President’s Executive Order to alleviate unnecessary regulatory burdens.

Try and get your head around this.  The revised rules make school meals less nutritious.  They allow schools to:

  • Serve flavored rather than plain low-fat milk (higher in sugar)
  • Be exempt from serving whole grain-rich products.
  • Have until the end of the 2020-2021 school year to reduce the salt in school meals.

This rule will be in effect for SY 2018-2019. USDA is accepting public comments for longer term use at www.regulations.gov.

I will never understand why adults would lobby to make school meals less healthful, but here is the School Nutrition Association praising the changes.  The Association cites survey data indicating that 65 percent of school districts are having trouble with whole grains and 92 percent with sodium requirements.

I love Margo Wootan’s quote (she is director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest):

The proposal is a hammer in search of a nail…Virtually 100 percent of schools are already complying with the final nutrition standards, including the first phase of sodium reduction.

Here are:

Nov 2 2017

USDA updates its chart collection

The USDA has just updated its agricultural statistics charts.

Some of the charts deal with trade issues.  I thought this one was especially interesting.

We (or farm animals) consume most of some commodities (pork, corn, beef).  Others are mainly for export (cotton, almonds,).

This is why trade matters to much to U.S. agriculture.

Tags: ,
Oct 9 2017

Belgium’s new food pyramid

Belgium has produced a new food guide “pyramid,” upside down.  Its advice:

  • Drink water
  • Eat more fruits, vegetables, and grains
  • Eat less dairy and meat, particularly those high in fat
  • Eat a lot less junk food, sugary drinks, and alcohol

Nothing new here, really, except for making the advice so graphically clear.

As Quartz puts it, “the new food pyramid in Belgium sticks meat next to candy and pizza.”

USDA: take note.

Oct 4 2017

Food security: a roundup of new reports: international and domestic

International

For the past few weeks I’ve been collecting reports on food security.  I’ve already posted the most recent report on worldwide trends (not good) from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)

Here are two more on global trends:

In an editorial triggered by the FAO report, The Lancet announces a major effort to address global food security:

In 2018, The Lancet will launch four food-related initiatives: the EAT-Lancet Commission, the LancetObesity Commission, a Series on health and agriculture, and a Series on the double burden of malnutrition. Each of these projects will reinforce a different aspect of the global call for equitable and sustainable provision of food to be a priority: recommending how policy makers approach food systems inclusive of health, cultural respect, agriculture, production, transport, trade, and retailing.

U.S. Domestic

In the meantime, food security remains a significant issue in the U.S., as indicated by this collection of recent reports, mostly from USDA:

Jun 8 2017

What’s up with trade in agriculture?

USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue says this about our new “trade breakthrough” with China:

This is tremendous news for the American beef industry, the agriculture community, and the U.S. economy in general.  We will once again have access to the enormous Chinese market, with a strong and growing middle class, which had been closed to our ranchers for a long, long time. .. When the Chinese people taste our high-quality U.S. beef, there’s no doubt in my mind that they’ll want more of it.”

Why “breakthrough”?  China refused to buy US beef after a case of mad cow disease turned up.

The  point of US trade policy is to have open markets for our products.  USDA has a quick summary of our current balance of trade.  We are doing pretty well with it.

And here’s why:

Hence: Selling beef to China should up those numbers.

Tags: , ,
May 23 2017

What ag schools really need to teach: a report

The Association of Public Land-Grant Universities has just released a report titled “Challenge of Change” about how the USDA can do a better job of funding research to solve important problems in food and agriculture.

The challenge:

 

Traditionally, the effort to achieve food security has been largely focused on the need to increase yields in order to produce more food. There is now broad recognition that production alone will not solve the grand challenge. All aspects of our food systems must be considered: nutrition, food safety, food loss, economic costs, individual behaviors, incentive structures, and societal factors affect not only production, but also access and utilization. There is also now an understanding that production increases must be achieved in the context of water availability, energy limitations, and environmental impact.

The report concludes that universities will need to change, so as to:

  • Elevate Food and Nutrition Security to a Top Priority
  • Align University Resources and Structures for Transdisciplinary Approaches
  • Enhance and Build University-Community Partnerships
  • Educate a New Generation of Students to be Transdisciplinary Problem Solvers

To achieve food security, food and agriculture will need to change to:

  • Broaden the Focus Beyond Yields
  • Change the Food System’s Incentive Structure
  • Develop the Capacity of Universities in Low-Income Countries
  • Leverage Technology, Big Data, and Information Science Information

This is an important report because it comes from land-grant universities .  These are currently responsible for supporting industrial agricultural systems and virtually ignoring—or firmly opposing—sustainable agricultural production methods.

A challenge for change indeed.  I hope land-grant universities listen hard.

 

May 18 2017

U.S. agriculture at a glance: USDA’s charts

USDA’s charts make it easy to understand basic aspects of farming in the United States.  This one covers about 175 years of American history.   The number of farms fell fast after the end of World War II and is still declining, while the size of farms increased.

Where are the jobs in the food and agriculture industries?  Mostly in food and beverage service and stores.

Farming?  A mere 1.4%.