July 20, 2019

Senate Appropriations Ag Subcommittee Hearing, Dietary Guidelines

Categories: Budget /Nutrition

On Thursday, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture heard testimony from FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg.

In his opening statement, Subcommittee Chairman Jerry Moran (R., Kan.) noted that, “Over the past four years, FDA has been given significant new responsibilities through the Food Safety Modernization Act, menu labeling legislation, and drug compounding legislation.

When implementing these laws, FDA must avoid the trappings of ‘one-size-fits-all’ solutions. Small businesses suffer under this practice all too frequently because they have limited capital to respond to significant new requirements and little time to implement these changes.”

Chairman Moran added that, “The agency’s final rule on menu labeling is overly broad and inflexible and lacks a great deal of business practicality. I was disappointed to see the inclusion of grocery stores, convenience stores, and other entities that do not sell restaurant style food as their primary business.

“Under the Food Safety Modernization Act, FDA is tasked with implementing the most sweeping changes to food safety laws in over 70 years. I was pleased that the Agency took many of the concerns within the agricultural community into account by re-proposing significant portions of the rules because they were unworkable for farmers. With the court-mandated deadlines for finalization approaching, I encourage FDA to consider deliberate and thoughtful implementation of the law.”

A news release on Thursday from Sen. Jon Tester (D., Mont.) indicated that, “During a Senate Agriculture Appropriations hearing Tester called on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to better identify the ingredients that are in food. With the commitment that the FDA would improve food safety without burdening small producers, Tester voiced his support for the $300 million increase for food safety included in the Administration’s budget request.

“‘Folks deserve to know what ingredients are in their food-which ingredients are good for them and which are going to kill them,’ Tester told FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg. ‘I want to support your efforts to keep our food safe, but we need to do it in a way that meets the needs of producers and consumers.’”

During the discussion portion of yesterday’s hearing, Chairman Moran had the following exchange with Dr. Hamburg about the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee Report:  “In regard to dietary guidelines, what role will FDA have in advising the Department of Health & Human Services?”

Dr. Margaret Hamburg: “Well, the dietary guidelines, at least as I understand it, it is a process that ultimately involves decision-making that is coordinated between the Secretary of Health & Human Services and the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture of USDA. FDA does play a role in reviewing reports and information that goes into the final determinations, and we of course bring our science-based approaches to our recommendations in terms of nutrition science and health.”

Sen. Moran: “What’s the status of that process now at the Department of Health & Human Services and your role?”

Dr. Hamburg: “I believe that there’s a report that is currently under review that was developed by a group of outside scientific experts, and we, like other components of HHS, have been asked to review that report and make comments for the Secretary.”

And Montana GOP Sen. Steve Daines had the following exchange with Dr. Hamburg on the Dietary Guidelines issue: “As you know, Montana is a large producer in ag. It’s our number one industry, $5 billion a year, and maintaining a high quality food supply is of paramount importance for our producers. And Montana agriculture plays an important role in the diets of Montanans, for Americans across the country, and even around the world.

And a question I had really relates to some of the dietary guidelines. And specifically, in the FY15 omnibus, there was a congressional directive that expressed concern that the Advisory Committee was, quote, ‘showing an interest in incorporating environmental factors into their criteria,’ and directed the Secretary to include, and I quote, ‘only nutrition and dietary information, not extraneous factors in the final guidelines.’

“Well, as you know, the scientific report of the 2015 dietary guidelines advisory committees was just released last month. It included, and I quote, ‘environmental approaches are needed to complement individual based efforts to improve diet and reduce obesity and other diet related diseases.’ So the question I have is, do you think the advisory committee report is compliant with the congressional directive?”

Dr. Hamburg: “Well, as I think you probably know, our role in this is not a direct one, but it’s advisory to the Secretary of Health & Human Services in terms of reviewing materials, including the report you mentioned, that then become the basis for decision-making by the Secretary of HHS and the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture. Our role is really to provide feedback in terms of the science of nutrition and health.

“And the broader issues that you were referring to I think were reflected in a report that was done by an outside group of scientists, but in terms of what we’ll be commenting on to the Secretary of Health & Human Services will be on nutrition science and health. And I think that, you know, my understanding is that, you know, at the end of the day the decisions that are made will really focus on the dietary guidelines that are science [based]—”

Sen. Daines:Doctor, do you believe the environmental issues are within the purview of developing those dietary guidelines?”

Dr. Hamburg:Well, you know, from the FDA perspective, as I said, that is not something that we are looking at. And my understanding is that the Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of Health & Human Services understand their role in terms of establishing the dietary guidelines.”

Sen. Daines: “Okay.”

Also on Thursday, a news release from Chairman Moran noted that, “Today, [Sen. Moran] and 29 of his Senate colleagues called on U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Sylvia Burwell to stay within statutory guidelines, consider the most relevant nutrition scientific literature, and reject the committee’s inconsistent conclusions and recommendations regarding the role of lean red meat in a healthy diet.

In a letter led by U.S. Senator John Thune (R-S.D.), they request an extension of the 45-day comment period to ensure stakeholders have enough time to review and comment on the lengthy report.”

Lydia Wheeler reported on Thursday at The Hill Online that, “The North American Meat Institute has a message for the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee – ‘Get your hands off my hot dog.’

“The meat and poultry trade association is calling all hot dog, sausage, bacon and salami lovers to sign a petition on, which asks the Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services to include meat as part of a healthy diet in the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.”

Note that Dr. Hamburg was also asked about the Dietary Guidelines at House Appropriations Ag Subcommittee hearing earlier this month- details on that hearing can be found here.


Thursday Morning Update: Crop Insurance; Policy; Regulations; Ag Economy; and, Biotech

Crop Insurance- GAO Report

On Wednesday, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report on crop insurance titled, “In Areas with Higher Crop Production Risks, Costs Are Greater, and Premiums May Not Cover Expected Losses.”

A summary and highlights of the report have been posted here, at

Agri-Pulse reporter Philip Brasher, in an article from yesterday, provided a brief and thorough look at the GAO report.

Mr. Brasher reported that, “Farmers in drought-prone areas of the Plains and other high-risk regions often aren’t being charged enough for crop insurance, according to congressional auditors.”


Chairman Conaway Comments on SNAP, Budget Issues

Categories: Farm Bill /Nutrition

Corey Paul reported on Monday at the The Odessa (Tex.) American Online that, “[House Ag Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R., Tex.)] said when he was appointed chairman in January that his chief priority was launching a review of the country’s Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, or food stamps, criticizing a lack of oversight for the $80 billion annual program.

“Conaway said Monday that review is underway and that he does not want his fellow legislators to make cuts to the program before he is finished.

“‘I’m trying to maintain this idea that we don’t have any preconceived reforms in mind right this second, and we want to let those percolate out of the review itself,’ Conaway said. ‘One of the fights I’m having with the budget is to make sure they don’t do things there that would taint the water.'”

On February 25, the full House Ag Committee held a hearing on SNAP, overview here; while on February 26, the House Ag Nutrition Subcommittee also heard SNAP related testimony, an overview of that hearing is available here.


Thursday Morning Update: Policy; Ag Economy; Trade; Regs; and, Political Notes

Policy Issues

A House Ag Committee news release yesterday stated that, “Today, Chairman of the Agriculture Committee K. Michael Conaway (TX-11), Nutrition Subcommittee Chairwoman Jackie Walorski (IN-2), and Livestock and Foreign Agriculture Subcommittee Chairman David Rouzer (NC-7) sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell raising concerns about recommendations received from the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC).

“‘Members of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee greatly exceeded their scope in developing recommendations,’ Chairman Conaway said. ‘The Secretaries share responsibility for these flawed recommendations because they failed to keep the Committee focused on nutritional recommendations and away from areas such as sustainability and tax policy, which are outside of the Committee’s purview. At a time when consumers are already subjected to conflicting and often contradictory nutrition and health information, the dietary guidelines must provide the public with realistic, science-based recommendations. Given the grave concerns that have been raised, more time is needed for public comment, and those comments should be fully reviewed and considered.’”

Also yesterday, House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture Chairman Robert Aderholt (R., Ala.) turned his attention to the Dietary Guidelines during a hearing where FDA Administrator, Dr. Margaret Hamburg, presented budget related testimony.

During the discussion portion of yesterday’s hearing, Chairman Aderholt noted that, “Let me switch over to dietary guidelines. The Department of Health & Human Services, and of course FDA is a part of that, has a lead role in developing the dietary guidelines for Americans in 2015. The Secretary of Agriculture appeared before this subcommittee, was sitting where you are sitting just about a week ago. He made a commitment to adhere to the statutory directive for developing the dietary guidelines for Americans. And as he put it, and this was his quote, “I know my role and I will color within the lines.”

Chairman Aderholt went on to ask Dr. Hamburg: “Can we get an assurance from the Department of Health & Human Services that the final report would include only nutrient and dietary recommendations and not include environmental factors and other extraneous material?”

A complete transcript of the exchange between Chairman Aderholt and Dr. Hamburg on the Dietary Guideline issues can be found in this update that was posted yesterday at


Dietary Guidelines Discussed at House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture- FDA Budget Hearing

Today, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture heard budget related testimony from the Food and Drug Administration.

Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R., Ky.) noted at today’s hearing that, “Like many, I am concerned about obstacles created by the Chinese government to our inspection of foreign food and drug products. While the safety of American consumers is our paramount concern, there is also a fundamental question about fair trade practices. Domestic manufacturers and producers are subjected to extensive regulation to ensure the safety of their products, and they should have an equal playing field with their foreign competitors. The Fiscal Year 2015 Omnibus included $2 million to speed up drug facility reviews in China, and we are looking forward to an update on this effort.”

In his opening statement, Subcommittee Chairman Robert Aderholt (R., Ala.) indicated that, “The size of FDA’s FY 2016 request includes increases for budget authority that disregard the debt crisis facing our nation. The agency is proposing large increases using scarce discretionary resources. Since FDA is informing Congress that Food Safety, Medical Product Safety, and Rent and Infrastructure needs are their highest priorities this year, it will be incumbent upon FDA to prove to Congress that such priorities cannot be funded out of base resources first.”

Subcommittee Chairman Aderholt added that, “FDA’s request for budget authority exceeds the 2015 enacted funding level by six percent.”

FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg, who is stepping down at the end of the month after six years in that position, noted the FDA’s work on the Food Safety Modernization Act and stated at the hearing: “FDA published seven major proposed rules and, based on stakeholder input, four supplemental proposals to implement FSMA. The Agency also completed 8,607 high-risk food establishment inspections in FY 2014, exceeding the target of 6,507 inspections by 32 percent. FDA also released a FSMA Operational Strategy Document that focuses on how we can implement FSMA by prioritizing prevention, voluntary compliance, risk-based oversight, and expanded collaboration across the food safety community.”

During the discussion portion of the hearing, Subcommittee Chairman Aderholt focused on the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee Report, which was released last month.

Below is a transcript of the discussion on this issue.

Rep. Robert Aderholt: Let me switch over to dietary guidelines. The Department of Health & Human Services, and of course FDA is a part of that, has a lead role in developing the dietary guidelines for Americans in 2015. The Secretary of Agriculture appeared before this subcommittee, was sitting where you are sitting just about a week ago. He made a commitment to adhere to the statutory directive for developing the dietary guidelines for Americans. And as he put it, and this was his quote, “I know my role and I will color within the lines.”

I reminded him, when he was here last week, of the need to stay focused only on the dietary and nutritional recommendations of the Dietary Guideline Advisory Committee and subsequent comments collected by USDA and the Department of Health & Human Safety about these recommendations. To quote from former Senator Bob Dole, he said, “I believe the committee exceeded its mandate when it made dietary recommendations based on environmental concerns of sustainability.” I urged the Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of Health & Human Services to [amend] those recommendations in issuing their final guidelines.

The science of nutrition can be confusing to the average consumer. Integrating environmental considerations into dietary recommendations lessens the report’s impact and usefulness. My question, Commissioner, would be, as a vital player in the development of these final guidelines, can we get an assurance from the Department of Health & Human Services that the final report would include only nutrient and dietary recommendations and not include environmental factors and other extraneous material?

Dr. Margaret Hamburg: Well, our role in the nutrition space is a little bit different. We are involved, of course, in the dietary guidelines, but that’s not our direct responsibility. We have many responsibilities directly in areas of nutrition and nutrition science. And I’m really happy to be able to report to you that we have a very strong commitment to science-based decision-making in our nutrition programs, that as we look at what matters to promoting health and protecting health of the American public with respect to health and nutrition, you know, we spend a lot of time examining what is known, what does the [literature] show, soliciting input from other experts in helping to get additional information that we might not be aware of. We also do undertake research ourselves and in partnership with others.

We also have just recruited a wonderful new director of our Center for Food Safety & Applied Nutrition, Dr. Susan Mayne, who is here, who we got from Yale University, you know, who has a long and distinguished career in nutrition science and health. So I think we are well positioned to help advance understanding and to make sound policies based on evidence. And certainly we try very hard to color within the lines, too. We already have responsibilities that outstrip our resources. We have no desire to take on new activities that are outside of what we’ve been mandated and asked to do.

Rep. Aderholt: Okay, I’ll take that as a yes then, so… I find it interesting that the advisory committee has found that cholesterol is not an nutrient of concern for over consumption, even though previous dietary guidelines have recommended limiting cholesterol intake to [no] more than 300 milligrams per day. There are other such examples in the recent past where the advisory committee completely changed its focus, despite claims of sound science.

The advisory committee also recommended a diet higher in plant-based foods and lower in animal-based foods as more health promoting, even though lean meat has been included as a part of a healthy, balanced diet in previous dietary guidelines. How are consumers supposed to feel confident about following the dietary guidelines when the recommendations contradict what was just put out five years ago?

Dr. Hamburg: Well, I think one of the challenges in this arena and other arenas as well is that the science base is always changing. Also, with the vast array of different kinds of studies going on, with different perspectives, it can get very confusing about emerging [science] and how to put it into context, and what information consumers should rely on.

Again, I come back to my earlier answer that we really view as the foundation of the work we do establishing the database and the evidence for regulatory decision-making, but recognize that this is a dynamic process, and new evidence emerges as understandings of the science and of human biology advance, and as that happens, we do think it’s very important to periodically update the work we’re doing.

For example, not too long ago we put forward a proposal to update our nutrition facts label, which is the nutrition information on the back of various kinds of processed and other foods. That was first begun, I think now, more than 20 years ago. And some of the nutritional components being represented there didn’t represent advances in nutrition science, and also the serving size information didn’t reflect current practices and behaviors of American consumers. So I think that’s very important so that Americans can have access to the most recent and updated information so they can make informed choices.

Rep. Aderholt: I reminded Secretary Vilsack, when he was here last week, of the enormous impact the dietary guidelines have on individual diets. Also nutritionists and dieticians who plan and prepare food for schools and other institutions and elsewhere across the United States. I suggested to him that the 45 day timeline for the comments is too short. And he committed to discussing extending that comment period for an additional 60 days with Secretary Burwell. Can I get a commitment from you that you and your colleagues will convey that need to extend that comment period?

Dr. Hamburg: Well, I will certainly reflect back to Secretary Burwell, you know, your comments in this discussion.

Rep. Aderholt: Thank you. Well, as I say, he was…the Secretary, I think, he was in agreement that this additional 60 days was important because of the impact of this, and so we would appreciate your conveying that to the Secretary, and that how…that this, we…many of us feel here on the committee that it is important as well.


Wednesday Morning Update: Policy Issues; Ag Economy; Trade; Regs; and, Budget

Policy Issues

Yesterday, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture heard testimony regarding the USDA’s Marketing and Regulatory Programs.

In his opening statement, Subcommittee Chairman Robert Aderholt (R., Ala.) indicated that, “USDA is requesting a total of $987 million in discretionary resources in FY 2016 for the mission area, a decrease of $12.5 million from the 2015 enacted level…I am particularly concerned that USDA has requested scarce discretionary resources for lower priorities. For example, APHIS has requested an increase to enhance implementation of the Lacey Act provisions. I have trouble supporting such an increase at the expense of higher priority and more effective animal and plant health programs, many of which the agency has proposed to decrease.

“With the overall spending caps still in effect, I anticipate that the Subcommittee’s funding levels will remain relatively flat at best.”

Ed Avalos, USDA Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs noted yesterday that, “To strike the balance between rigorous scientific review and timely entry to the market of genetically engineered crops, USDA streamlined and improved the process for making determinations on petitions involving biotechnology. Because of the enhancements, we reduced the length of the petition review by more than 600 days when we can use the environmental assessment process. With this improvement, we estimate that the cumulative number of actions taken to deregulate biotechnology products based on a scientific determination will increase from a cumulative total of 87 actions in 2011 to an estimated 119 in 2016.”

This topic came up in the discussion portion of yesterday’s hearing; Chairman Aderholt inquired: “Last year you reported that you were only able to reduce the backlog of 22 petitions by six. Your testimony this year states that you are nearly through the list of backlogged petitions. Can you provide us some more details on the status of the backlog and what progress you’ve been able to achieve?”

Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Administrator Kevin Shea offered more details, and explained that, “You might recall a year ago I pledged to you we would cut the backlog of 16 by at least half, and I’m proud to say that the fantastic men and women who work in our biotechnology review program have indeed exceeded that goal, and there now only six of those 16 remain, so that means we reduced it by more than half.

“I would say this also, when we began our business process improvement just a few years ago, 2012, there were 23 re-regulation requests in the backlog. Since then 11 [more] requests to come in, so there were a total of 34 regulation requests. There are only six left. We got 28 out of 34 done. There are only six remaining. We’re going to get those done, we think, by the end of this fiscal year.

And so now we have the system in equilibrium. We can handle the amount that come in. And not only can we handle them, we can handle them quicker. It was taking us three to five years to do these things. We are now down to 15 to 18 months. Our goal is no more than 15 months, and I think we’re going to achieve that as well.”


Tuesday Morning Update: Policy Issues; Trade; Ag Economy; Biotech; and Budget

Policy Issues

In a speech yesterday at the 2015 National Anti-Hunger Policy Conference in Washington, D.C., Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack discussed the SNAP program and announced “more than $27 million in grants to fund innovative projects designed help end childhood hunger.”

Also yesterday, at the School Nutrition Association’s 2015 Legislative Action Conference, a separate venue in Washington, D.C., Sen. John Hoeven (R., N.D.) announced “that he plans to introduce the Healthy School Meals Flexibility Act later this week or early next week. The legislation would provide permanent flexibility to school districts in complying with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s new school nutrition requirements.”

Additional details on these federal nutrition policy issues from yesterday, and on Sec. Vilsack’s remarks regarding the SNAP program, can be found here, at

On Monday, USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) updated its monthly Amber Waves publication; the March edition contained two particularly interesting articles on nutrition related policy. The first looked at the number of school districts serving “local” food, while the second addressed the potential of restricting sweetened beverages purchases through the SNAP program– an especially timely article considering the House Ag Committee’s ongoing top-to-bottom overview of the program (Committee SNAP hearing summaries here and here).

A summary overview of the two ERS articles is available here.

Arthur Delaney reported yesterday at the Huffington Post that, “The Republican Party’s new point man on food stamps, Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas), insists that he doesn’t want to cut nutrition assistance benefits. Instead, Conaway is leading a multiyear review of the program, just to make sure it’s the best it can be.

But it might not be up to Conaway. Republicans could push food stamp cuts this year through a parliamentary process known as ‘reconciliation.’

“The GOP has discussed using reconciliation as a way to repeal Obamacare or to do tax reform. Now, some Democrats and food stamp advocates are warning that the Republican-controlled Congress could use the obscure budget maneuver to reduce food stamp assistance.”


USDA- ERS Amber Waves Nutriton Articles: Local Food Purchases; Potential SNAP Restrictions

Categories: Farm Bill /Nutrition

On Monday, USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) updated its monthly Amber Waves publication; the March edition contained two particularly interesting articles on nutrition related policy.

The first, which took a closer look at local food purchases made by school districts (“Many U.S. School Districts Serve Local Foods”), indicated that, “The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 established the USDA Farm to School Program to encourage school districts to use locally produced food for meals served through the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs. USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS)—the agency responsible for administering school meal programs—partnered with ERS to conduct USDA’s Farm to School Census, the first attempt to ask every public school district in the United States about their involvement in farm to school activities and how much locally produced food they served in school meals. Schools reported how they defined ‘local foods,’ with two common definitions being foods produced within 50 miles or within the State. According to the census, 36 percent of U.S. school districts reported serving locally produced food in school meal programs during the 2011-12 or 2012-13 school years and an additional 9 percent planned to serve local foods in the future.”

The article added that, “The top food categories sourced locally were fruits and vegetables, cited by 94 and 91 percent, respectively, of the school districts that served local foods. Milk (45 percent), baked goods (27 percent), and other types of dairy products (22 percent) were also among the top food categories sourced locally. For districts that were able to provide food service expenditure data, local foods represented an average of 13 percent of reported expenditures on food.”

A separate Amber Waves item from Monday, which addressed the purchase of unhealthy items through the SNAP program (“Restricting Sugar-Sweetened Beverages From SNAP Purchases Not Likely To Lower Consumption”) stated that, “Americans now get an average of nearly 21 percent of their daily calories from beverages, up from 12 percent in 1965. Since calories from beverages may be less satiating than calories from food, consumers may not recognize how many calories they are consuming from beverages, potentially leading to higher total caloric intake. While some beverages—such as milk and 100-percent fruit and vegetable juices—provide important nutrients such as calcium and vitamin C, sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) provide few (if any) essential nutrients. As a result, some argue that SSBs have had a super-sized role in contributing to obesity in the United States.”

The article noted that, “Some policymakers and nutrition advocates have suggested that changes to SNAP, such as excluding SSBs from the set of allowable items that can be purchased using benefits, could directly address overconsumption of SSBs among low-income populations who receive program benefits…Underlying the argument to limit SNAP participants’ SSB purchases is the idea that SNAP participants consume more SSBs than nonparticipants, and that the SNAP benefit covers all of a household’s food spending so that any restrictions on purchases will have a direct effect on consumption in SNAP households.”

The ERS article included this graph:

However, the ERS update pointed out that, “Simply comparing average beverage intake across different SNAP participant and nonparticipant groups does not address the question of whether SNAP influences purchases and if restrictions on SNAP purchases will have any impact on individual intakes. Differences in the characteristics among the three lower income groups may explain differences in SSB and other beverage consumption…After accounting for these observable characteristics, SNAP participants are no more likely to consume SSBs than lower income nonparticipants. These findings are consistent with other ERS research on overall diet quality, which also found that SNAP participants’ diets do not differ greatly relative to otherwise similar nonparticipants. Along these lines, researchers in this analysis found no differences in alcohol consumption between SNAP and nonparticipating adults, even though alcoholic beverages cannot be purchased with SNAP benefits.”

The Amber Waves article also noted that, “On average, SNAP households received $257 from SNAP yet spent $490 on food each month. Over 85 percent of SNAP participants spent more than their monthly SNAP benefit level on food, purchasing an average of an additional $301 worth of groceries with their own money.”

With respect to implications of potential SNAP beverage restrictions, ERS explained that, “While SNAP participants could use their own resources to purchase SSBs, a restriction on SNAP purchases of SSBs would mean a slightly higher price of such beverages for participants in States that tax grocery store food purchases, since SNAP participants do not pay sales tax on SNAP purchases. Excluding SSBs from the allowable foods and beverages may mean SNAP participants who purchase them would have to pay the tax (State policies on how to tax mixed purchases—e.g., purchases using both SNAP and cash income—vary), effectively increasing the price of SSBs for SNAP participants and potentially lowering the quantity purchased. A previous ERS study estimated that a 20-percent tax-induced price increase on sweetened beverages would decrease total daily beverage intake a small amount—37 calories—for the average adult because SSBs make up a very small portion of household food budgets and consumers can substitute to nontaxed food or beverages that may contain added sugars and calories.”


Federal Nutrition Issues, SNAP– Sec. Vilsack Remarks

Christopher Doering reported on Monday at The Des Moines Register Online that, “The food stamp program is being unfairly targeted by Republican lawmakers despite evidence it helps children, the elderly and other Americans, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Monday.

“Vilsack, speaking before anti-hunger group Food Research and Action Center, said the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program helps lower poverty rates and improves childhood health and education. He rebuffed critics who said the program is fraught with abuse and fraud, noting that the SNAP error rate is among the lowest in government and its fraud rate is only 1 percent.

“‘Why is it that (lawmakers) are picking on the SNAP program? Because it works,’ Vilsack said. ‘If these people were really serious about reducing SNAP and helping folks why wouldn’t they consider raising the minimum wages?‘”

Mr. Doering added that, “Last week, the House Agriculture Committee held a hearing to review SNAP and explore how to improve the program.

“‘While the economy has changed and other welfare programs have adjusted to meet changing needs, it does not appear that SNAP has,’ said Rep. Mike Conaway, a Texas Republican who chairs the House Agriculture Committee. ‘I believe there is a role for SNAP, but we need to have a complete and clear understanding of its mission and purpose.'”

Arthur Delaney reported today at The Huffington Post Online that, “Vilsack said food insecurity and childhood hunger remain problems, with 15.8 million children living in households that struggled to afford food at some point in 2013.

“‘I don’t think there’s any understanding or appreciation of the depth of child poverty in many rural areas in this country,’ Vilsack said.”

A news release from USDA today stated that, “In a speech at the 2015 National Anti-Hunger Policy Conference today about the extent of childhood hunger in America and the impact of USDA programs on reducing food insecurity, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced more than $27 million in grants to fund innovative projects designed help end childhood hunger. The announcement was part of USDA efforts during National Nutrition Month to focus on poverty and food insecurity among children, especially in rural areas. These projects will be tested in Kentucky, Nevada, and Virginia, as well as the Chickasaw and Navajo tribal nations.”

Bob Aiken, the chief executive officer of Feeding America, and Jim Weill, the president of the Food Research and Action Center, noted in a column on Monday at The Hill Online that, “The federal nutrition programs are examples of public policy at its best and have a long history of holding the line against the most devastating impacts of poverty and hunger. Investing in ending hunger is not just the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do with a large return on investment. Hunger increases illness and health care costs, lowers worker productivity, harms children’s development, and diminishes children’s educational achievement. Were it not for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), schools meals, afterschool and child care food, senior meals, WIC, commodity programs and other safety net programs, hunger and its impacts in our nation would be far worse.”

Aiken and Weill added that, “First, Congress must make hunger a priority in our nation’s budget and maintain its historic bipartisan commitment to protecting the structure and funding of programs that provide food assistance to vulnerable low-income households.

“And it must build on success with adequate funding and positive policy initiatives for the programs that help feed our children in the upcoming Child Nutrition Reauthorization, which includes school, after school, child care, and summer meals.”

A recent update at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities indicated that, “The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) is the nation’s most important anti-hunger program, reaching nearly 47 million people nationwide in 2013 alone. These fact sheets provide state-by-state data on who participates in the SNAP program, the benefits they receive, and SNAP’s role in strengthening the economy.”

Meanwhile, an update on Monday at the USDA Blog by Kevin Concannon, USDA Undersecretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services, stated that, “We all want our children to succeed. It’s an important value and one the entire country can rally around. This March we’re redoubling our efforts to that commitment by celebrating National Nutrition Month and the importance of raising a healthier generation of kids.”

Undersecretary Concannon also addressed the Food Research and Action Center policy conference today.

Also today, Lydia Wheeler reported at The Hill Online that, “Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) is introducing legislation to relax the rules for healthy school lunches.

“At the School Nutrition Association’s (SNA) 2015 Legislative Action Conference at the JW Marriott Monday, Hoeven announced the Healthy School Meals Flexibility Act to give schools more flexibility in complying with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulations when it comes to whole grains and sodium levels.”

The Hill update added that, “The bill would allow schools to revert back to 2012 standards, which require at least half of all grains served in school breakfast and school lunch to be whole grain rich. The standard now is for 100 percent of all grains offered to be whole grain rich.

The bill also prevents USDA from requiring further sodium reductions in school meals below the current level, which took effect July 2014.”

Keith Good

Friday Morning Update: Policy; Trade; Ag Economy; Biofuels; Biotech; and, Budget

Policy Issues

On Thursday, the House Agriculture Nutrition Subcommittee met, “to review SNAP recipient characteristics and dynamics.” Yesterday’s hearing followed Wednesday’s full House Ag Committee meeting on SNAP and nutrition issues.

A summary and overview of Thursday’s Subcommittee hearing is available here.

Over the past two days, the House Ag Committee has been presented with a large amount of detailed analysis and information on SNAP; it appears that Chairman Mike Conaway’s (R., Tex.) top-to-bottom review of the program is off to a substantive and serious start.

In remarks on the House floor Thursday, Ag Nutrition Subcommittee ranking member Jim McGovern (D., Mass.) indicated that, “Mr. Speaker, yesterday the House Agriculture Committee – where I am proud to serve – held the first hearing in its ‘top-to-bottom’ review of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

“SNAP is the nation’s pre-eminent anti-hunger program that provides critical food assistance to more than 46 million Americans. Last year, 16 million children – or 1 in 5 American children – relied on SNAP. Unfortunately, every indication is that Republicans will once again try to cut this critical safety-net program.”


House Ag Nutrition Subcommittee Hearing on SNAP

Categories: Farm Bill /Nutrition

On Thursday afternoon, the House Agriculture Nutrition Subcommittee held a hearing, “to review SNAP recipient characteristics and dynamics.”

On Wednesday, the full Committee heard background testimony from two experts on the SNAP program.

In her opening statement on Thursday, Subcommittee Chairwoman Jackie Walorski (R., Ind.) indicated that, “The full committee yesterday examined why a review of SNAP is so important – it’s the largest welfare program in both the number of recipients and the amount of spending, yet the program lacks a clear mission and the data reveals that it is not helping lift people out of poverty. It is my hope and expectation that this subcommittee, along with the work done at the full committee, will explore and gain a better understanding of the entire program and specifically its recipients to find unmet needs and areas of overlap.”

Chairwoman Walorski added that, “Today is not about policy recommendations; it’s about understanding the diverse characteristics and dynamics of the more than 46 million Americans who receive benefits from this program each month. Over the coming months, our review will include a range of stakeholder perspectives, including current and former recipients; non-profits, states and localities, the food industry, and nutrition experts to name a few.”

Subcommitte ranking member Jim McGovern (D., Mass.) noted in his opening remarks that, “As I said at yesterday’s hearing, I’m a little surprised that we’re starting the first ‘top-to-bottom’ review of programs within this Committee’s jurisdiction with SNAP, a program whose caseloads and spending are going down according to CBO. I hope we exercise the same rigorous oversight on farm subsidies to big agribusiness – payments that CBO projections indicate could end up costing nearly $5 billion more than expected in the farm bill.”

Ranking member McGovern added that, “I hope today’s hearing builds upon some of the overarching themes that came up yesterday. In particular, we need to address one the biggest flaws in our social safety net, the so-called ‘cliff.’ This happens when someone gets a job but earns so little they lose their benefits and end up worse off. And, if we really want to move people out of poverty for good, we need to raise the minimum wage.”

The Subcommittee heard testimony from only one panel that included: Karen Cunnyngham, a Senior Researcher at Mathematica Policy Research, Dr. Gregory Mills a Senior Fellow at the Urban Institute, Dr. James P. Ziliak from the University of Kentucky and Stephen Tordella, the president of Decision Demographics.

In her prepared testimony, Karen Cunnyngham indicated that, “In fiscal year 2013, 41 percent of SNAP households received the maximum benefit and 5 percent received the minimum benefit. The average monthly SNAP benefit was $271. SNAP households with children received a relatively high average benefit of $410, while households with elderly individuals received a relatively low one of $134. One reason for the difference in average benefits is the difference in average household size: 3.2 people for SNAP households with children, compared with 1.3 people for households with elderly individuals. SNAP households that include a nonelderly adult with a disability had an average monthly SNAP benefit of $204 and households with no elderly individuals, individuals with disabilities, or children had an average benefit of $195.”

Dr. Gregory Mills noted in his prepared remarks yesterday that, “This study examines the rates, causes, and costs of participant churn in SNAP. Churn occurs when a household receiving SNAP exits the program and then re-enters within four months or less, as defined by FNS for this research. Some churn is to be expected—as when a temporary increase in earnings makes a family briefly ineligible for assistance. Churn presents a policy concern, however, when benefits are disrupted for households who were continuously eligible. In these situations families lose benefits while off the program, with added time and expense involved in re-entering. Budgetarily, the pattern of case closings and reopenings brings higher State and federal administrative costs. Importantly, about half of the households who churn are families with children whose food security is placed at risk.”

Dr. James P. Ziliak stated in his prepared testimony that, “The past decade of near uninterrupted growth in participation is unprecedented in the program’s history. By most measures the recession of 2001 was mild, and with declining unemployment in the aftermath of the recession, past experience would have dictated a decline in participation in the mid 2000s. This did not happen. Participation then accelerated with the onset of the Great Recession as millions of Americans lost work.”

Dr. Ziliak added that, “[T]he fraction of SNAP households headed by a high school dropout has plummeted by more than half since 1980, and by 2011, more than a third of SNAP households were headed by someone with some college or more.”

In his prepared remarks, Stephen Tordella noted that, “The most common events associated with entry into SNAP were related to decreases in family earnings, loss of employment, and changes to the family situation. Among those who entered SNAP in the study period, 30 percent experienced a substantial decrease in family earnings in the previous four months, while 23 percent experienced a substantial loss in other family income—income aside from earnings and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). Nearly 16 percent of those who entered SNAP were in families where a member became unemployed within the previous four months, and 12 percent experienced a change in their family situation within the previous four months, such as a pregnancy, a new dependent in the family, or a separation or divorce.”

On the other hand, Mr. Tordella noted that, “In about 30 percent of households that exit SNAP, the data do not show an event related to improved financial circumstances or reduced need in the previous four months that we would readily associate with exit from the program. About 70 percent experienced a substantial increase in income or a decrease in the number of family members. Thirty-seven percent experienced more than one of these events in the four months before exiting. Increases in earnings were the most common of the events we examined that preceded exits. These events, however, are common and do not always lead to exiting SNAP.”

With respect to re-entry into the program, Mr. Tordella explained that, “Forty-seven percent of SNAP participants who exited the program in the panel period re-entered within 12 months. Another 12 percent re-entered within two years, for a total of 59 percent re-entering within 24 months. Participants returned to the program more quickly during 2008 to 2012 than prior study periods. In the mid-2000s, 53 percent of participants re-entered within two years.”

During the discussion portion of yesterday’s hearing, Chairman Walorski had the following exchange with Dr. Mills.

Rep. Jackie Walorski: Mr. Mills, I have a question for you. In your churn study, talking about the cycling of families on and off of benefits, you mentioned one of the reasons that recipients were experiencing personal difficulties. And kind of in a follow-up to a question I had yesterday on the full committee on SNAP about families getting real help, what’s the engagement level of states going into these recertifications?

Dr. Gregory Mills: It’s rather extensive. That is to say the effort that is put into the recertification is a full review of the eligibility factors of the case, so it’s immigration, citizenship, it’s their household income, expenses, and resources. So it is, in terms of case worker effort, it’s probably something like two to three hours of a case worker’s time.

Rep. Walorski: So there is a case worker from SNAP that potentially knows there’s a situation with a family?

Dr. Mills: A scheduled—well, I’m talking actually about a scheduled recertification, so those would occur typically at intervals of 12 or 24 months. The point I was trying to make in my testimony was that the, say, two to three hours that might be spent by a case worker at recertification is far less than what is required at an initial application. And the phenomenon of churn causes individuals, once they go off the program, many of them have to come back by going through a full initial application, which may require, say, six or seven hours of a case worker’s time, so it’s more—

Rep. Walorski: And what did you learn in your interview process on interviews with SNAP staff and those in the community-based organizations?

Dr. Mills: I indicated some of the recommendations that individuals have, the staff of these offices. We interviewed staff in one local office in each of the six states. We also interviewed representatives of community-based organizations. And I believe the chairman actually made reference in his opening statement the other day to the extension of the food assistance network to include food banks and other nonprofit organizations.

Some states do make use of such community-based organizations to assist clients in the outreach and in applying for benefits. That is a strategy that some states also use at recertification, allowing the client to be interviewed by a worker at a food bank if, for instance, they might find it difficult to get to a local office, and if they’re already going to that food bank and it would represent less burden for them.

Rep. Walorski: I appreciate it. Maybe this is the disadvantage of longer certification periods, fewer interactions and opportunities to help families. I appreciate your testimony.

And ranking member McGovern had this exchange with Dr. Mills.

Rep. Jim McGovern: Thank you very much. Just on this issue of churning and recertification, we had a witness here yesterday who said that there should be more certification processes. And I guess my question to you is, you know, how would requirements for more frequent recertification likely affect the churn rate?

Dr. Mills: I think of this as a tradeoff that’s a difficult one to make. As I pointed out in my testimony, there are multiple objectives here. You want to provide access to the program for those who are eligible for benefits, and at the same time you want to maintain the integrity of the program by not allowing those who are ineligible to access the program. So the procedural barriers exist for multiple reasons. You want to make sure that people in fact meet the eligibility requirements, but you don’t want to place those barriers or those hurdles so high that it might prevent those who are in fact entitled to receive benefits from entering the program.

In general, as I think you heard from [Robert Greenstein, President of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities] the other day, the error rates in the program are very low. Only about 1% of recipients in the SNAP program are in fact ineligible and should not be receiving benefits. All others are eligible and perhaps not receiving the correct amount. But the program, by those measures, is very well administered, reflecting the amount of attention that goes into initial certification and recertification.

More barriers—I think that this is getting to your question—more barriers, more procedural requirements almost certainly would increase the rate of churn because there would be some individuals eligible for assistance who would not be able to meet those requirements, and they would go off, but they’d be unable to make ends meet without those benefits, they would reapply.

Rep. McGovern: Right. And I’d like to think that we all can agree that everybody who is eligible for this benefit should be able to get it, that we shouldn’t be going out of our way to make it more difficult for eligible people to get a food benefit.

And at the conclusion of Thursday’s hearing, Rep. McGovern noted that, “The SNAP program is a food program, it is not a job-training program, it is not a jobs program, and we need to make sure that everybody in this country has access to food; food ought to be a right- and I think this is a program that works.”

Also, in remarks yesterday on the House floor, Rep. McGovern noted in part that, “Mr. Speaker, yesterday the House Agriculture Committee – where I am proud to serve – held the first hearing in its ‘top-to-bottom’ review of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

“SNAP is the nation’s pre-eminent anti-hunger program that provides critical food assistance to more than 46 million Americans. Last year, 16 million children – or 1 in 5 American children – relied on SNAP. Unfortunately, every indication is that Republicans will once again try to cut this critical safety-net program.”

Keith Good

Thursday Morning Update: Policy Issues; Trade; Ag Economy; and, Budget Issues

Policy Issues

On Wednesday, the House Agriculture Committee met to discuss the SNAP program and nutrition issues, a summary and overview of this Committee hearing is available here.

Also on the SNAP issue, a report yesterday by  Mathematica Policy Research presented “estimates that, for each state, measure the need for SNAP and the program’s effectiveness in each of the three years from 2010 to 2012.”

The Mathematica item stated that, “This report presents estimates that, for each state, measure the need for SNAP and the program’s effectiveness in each of the three fiscal years from 2010 to 2012. The estimated numbers of people eligible for SNAP measure the need for the program. The estimated SNAP participation rates measure, state by state, the program’s performance in reaching its target population. In addition to the participation rates that pertain to all eligible people, we derived estimates of participation rates for the ‘working poor,’ that is, people who were eligible for SNAP and lived in households in which someone earned income from a job.”

The report noted that, “Tables III.1  and III.2  present our final shrinkage estimates of SNAP participation rates and the number of people eligible, respectively, in each state for FY 2010 to FY 2012 for all eligible people and for the working poor.”

Recall that he House Agriculture Nutrition Subcommittee will hold a hearing today, “to review SNAP recipient characteristics and dynamics.”

Also on Wednesday, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilisack presented testimony at the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture.


House Ag Committee Hearing: SNAP (Food Stamps)

Categories: Farm Bill /Nutrition

At a House Agriculture Committee hearing on Wednesday that focused on the SNAP program and nutrition issues, Chairman Mike Conaway (R., Tex.) indicated that, “[The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)] is the largest program under the Committee’s jurisdiction, and today’s hearing marks the beginning of a top-to-bottom review of the program. We will conduct this review without preconceived notions and with a commitment to strengthening the program so it can serve as a tool to help individuals move up the economic ladder.”

Chairman Conaway added that, “We can all agree that no one ought to go hungry in America, and SNAP is essential in protecting the most vulnerable citizens during tough times. For many it is a vital lifeline to keeping food on the table. What we don’t want is for this program to hold people back from achieving their potential. I believe there is a role for SNAP, but we need to have a complete and clear understanding of its mission and purpose.”

Robert Greenstein, President of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, and University of Maryland Professor Douglas J. Besharov were the only two witnesses at Wednesday’s hearing.

In prepared testimony, Prof. Besharov noted that, “I applaud this committee’s multi-faceted re-examination of the program, its past, present, and future. Based on my research and analysis, I think the key challenge is to modernize a massive program that started as a small program of food assistance to become the primary US program of income support.”

Prof. Besharov added that, “That would mean coordinating the SNAP program with Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Unemployment Insurance, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), and the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and other tax credits. In doing so, there should be an effort to rationalize the current patchwork of programs that make up the US safety-net in a way that balances what looks to be long-term weak demand for labor economic with the need to minimize the work and marriage disincentives in current law.”

Prof. Besharov pointed out that, “Today, instead of hunger, the central nutritional problem facing the poor, indeed all Americans, is not too little food but, rather too much—or at least too many calories. Although there are still some pockets of real hunger in America, they are predominantly among populations with behavioral or emotional problems.”

In his testimony, Prof. Besharov explained that, “As I have described, states are financially and politically rewarded when they move people off UI and TANF (programs with at least some activation requirements) and on to SNAP. This incentive was not created deliberately, but, rather, is a historic accident of how and when the programs were established…[R]eal reform probably requires that the states be made financial partners of the federal government. States should have a more direct financial stake in the proper governance of SNAP programs, including of eligibility determinations. Given that all program funds come from the federal government, a substantial liberalization of eligibility determinations was predictable. State officials have little reason to be cost conscious—as long as program funds seem available.”

During the discussion portion of Wednesday’s hearing, House Ag Nutrition Subcommittee Chairwoman Jackie Walorski (R., Ind.) had this exchange with Prof. Besharov:

Rep. Walorski: “And I guess as we’ve talked about today, we’ve talked about the issue of how do families, how do single moms and how do underemployed families pay for food, and healthcare, and lodging, and daycare, how does all this happen. And my question is, when they finally get to a point where they have figured all this out, what then does the government do to really help these families?

“Has the SNAP program historically been just a Band-Aid to pass them on to the next…somebody else to deal with them or is there a sense that, you know, there’s an opportunity to actually look at what this government can do, should do, and actually getting real help to the financial challenges and how this happened to begin with? So I guess just historically, where do you see this? Has this always just been a Band-Aid to try to get people along or is there a long-term solution that’s been talked about?

Prof. Besharov: “Well, I think the world’s changed. Before 1996 we would have had this conversation about TANF. And what happened was when the Congress reformed TANF and the case loads went way down, the SNAP case loads, over time, over a 20 year period, went up. And as I said in my testimony, some people on the right, especially, call SNAP welfare 2.0, which is this is the new version of that.

The difference is that within the SNAP program, the states don’t have an incentive to really reform, to provide those kinds of uplifting services because of the formula. The formula is if a state wants to provide services to people in your district in Indiana, it has to pay 50% of the cost, but if it wants to just give out SNAP benefits, it only pays the administrative costs, and those are very low.

So my recommendation is that whatever the incentive is, whether it’s giving the states a bounty every time they get somebody from SNAP a job or an advanced degree or whatever, give them a financial incentive to help the people on SNAP. It’s not there now.”

A video replay of Rep. Walorski’s complete remarks at Wednesday’s hearing can be seen here:

Subcommittee Chairwoman Warloski also made the following tweet on Wednesday:

In his prepared remarks, Mr. Greenstein noted that, “As of the end of 2014, SNAP was helping more than 46 million low-income Americans to afford a nutritionally adequate diet by providing them with benefits via a debit card that can be used only to purchase food. The benefits are relatively modest. SNAP participants receive an average benefit of $1.42 per person per meal.”

Mr. Greenstein added that, “SNAP targets benefits on those most in need and least able to afford an adequate diet. Its benefit formula considers a household’s income level, along with its essential expenses such as rent, medicine, and child care needed to work. Although a family’s income is the most important factor affecting its ability to purchase food, it is not the only factor; a family whose rent and utility costs consume two-thirds of its income will have less money to buy food than a family that has the same income but receives a rental voucher to cover a portion of its rental costs.

“The program’s targeting of benefits adds some complexity. However, it helps to ensure that SNAP provides the largest levels of assistance to the poorest families with the greatest needs, and lesser assistance to those whose level of need is less severe.”

Mr. Greenstein pointed to research that “found that adults who had access to food stamps as young children had an 18 percentage point higher high school graduation rate than the children who hadn’t had access to food stamps. The children with access to food stamps also had significantly lower rates of ‘metabolic syndrome‘ (obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes) and better health in adulthood. In addition, women who had access to food stamps as young children had higher earnings and lower rates of welfare receipt in adulthood.”

Mr. Greenstein also pointed out that, “SNAP error rates now stand at record lows. Fewer than 1 percent of SNAP benefits are issued to households that do not meet all of the program’s eligibility requirements.”

Also at Wednesday’s hearing, House Ag Nutrition Subcommittee ranking member Jim McGovern (D., Mass.) raised questions about the hearing, noting that: “You know, today’s hearing is described as the start of a top to bottom review of SNAP, and I’m certainly a proponent of rigorous oversight of all programs. But I have to say, at the beginning, I find it a little bit curious that we seem to be singling out SNAP for review, especially at a time when the most recent CBO projections show that SNAP case loads and spending is moving in a downward direction, and CBO also says that payments to farmers could be nearly $5 billion more than was originally expected in the farm bill. I don’t know why we’re not beginning with a top to bottom review of that, but

“And I appreciate you being here. And I hope, if we’re going to do a top to bottom review, that we also, at some point, have a panel of beneficiaries, people who are on the program, who can testify firsthand what works and what doesn’t work. And maybe we should also have someone from [the Food and Nutrition Service] here as well, because they administer the program. I hope that this is not going to be an exercise in another attack against poor people because I fear I’ve seen this movie before, and I didn’t like it the first time. But it is what it is.”

Keith Good

Update: 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee Report

Categories: Nutrition

Following Thursday’s release of dietary guidelines from a government advisory committee, former United States Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan made the following tweet:

On the other hand, American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman indicated on Friday that, “We are, however, concerned that the report’s lengthy foray into sustainability issues goes well beyond both the group’s expertise and its clearly defined mission. Its conclusions would have benefitted from the contributions of agronomists, animal scientists, ecologists and others with deeper expertise in agriculture and sustainability.

“The report makes many good observations about the need for a balanced diet, but we are troubled that it also repeats alarmist and unsubstantiated assertions about land use first promulgated by a UN agency with scant agricultural understanding. These assertions contradict the views of the UN’s own agricultural experts and fly in the face of decades of scientific consensus. The overall guidelines also ignore easier and more effective ways ordinary Americans can reduce their carbon footprints.

We suspect the report’s unrealistically pessimistic view of sustainability colors its views regarding meat in the American diet. Instead of supporting the health benefits of lean meat consumption — as previous advisory committees have consistently done — the authors focus only on a diet ‘higher in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low- or non-fat dairy, seafood, legumes, and nuts; moderate in alcohol (among adults); lower in red and processed meat.'”

Meanwhile, a news release Friday from Sen. John Thune (R., S.D.) stated that, “Following a new report from the Obama administration’s Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, which advises the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on the suggested 2015 dietary guidelines, U.S. Sens. [Thune] and Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) and Rep. Kristi Noem (R-S.D.) expressed their concern about the misleading and inconsistent guidelines on meat consumption in the report.

“Every five years, USDA and HHS review the dietary guidelines for American food consumption. The new report recommends to the secretaries what should be included in the dietary guidelines that will be issued later this year. The report leaves lean red meat out of what it considers to be a healthy diet, which is not only a great concern to dietitians who support consumption of lean red meat but is also concerning for the South Dakota livestock industry.”

Nina Teicholz indicated in a column in Saturday’s New York Times that, “The committee’s new report also advised eliminating ‘lean meat’ from the list of recommended healthy foods, as well as cutting back on red and processed meats. Fewer protein choices will likely encourage Americans to eat even more carbs. It will also have policy implications: Meat could be limited in school lunches and other federal food programs.

“It’s possible that a mostly meatless diet could be healthy for all Americans — but then again, it might not be. We simply do not know. There are no rigorous clinical trials on such a diet, and although epidemiological data exists for adult vegetarians, there is none for children.”

AP writer Mary Clare Jalonick reported on Friday that, “A tax on sugary drinks and snacks is one way a government panel of nutrition experts thinks Americans can be coaxed into eating better. Some members of Congress are already pushing back on the idea, saying the panel has overstepped its bounds.

“The panel’s recommendations will help determine what gets into the new version of dietary guidelines being prepared by the Agriculture and Health and Human Services departments. The advice includes eating more fruits and vegetables and whole grains and limiting added sugars and fat.

“However, the panel goes beyond previous versions of the dietary guidelines by suggesting a broad list of possible policy changes — a tax is just one — that could make it easier for people to follow that diet advice.”

Ms. Jalonick added that, “Other ideas put forth by the committee were placing nutrition labels on the front of food packages and requiring public buildings to serve healthier foods. The committee also suggested incentives for eating fruits and vegetables, though it didn’t detail how that could work. Panel members said incentives might be vouchers for farmers markets or subsidies for growers or grocery stores.

The panel endorsed adding a line on the nutrition facts label for added sugars, which the Obama administration has already proposed. It also backed the administration’s standards for healthier school lunches.

“Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., criticized the report shortly after it came out Thursday, saying the committee strayed from its science-based nutrition recommendations.”


Friday Update: Policy Issues, Ag Economy; Trade; and, Biofuels

Policy Issues

In addition to the House Ag Committee hearings next Wednesday and Thursday on food stamp issues, on Tuesday, the Senate Ag Committee will hold a hearing on Farm Bill implementation and Farm Credit Administration nominations.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack is scheduled to address the Senate panel; however, the Committee will hear from producers first.

In a discussion this week on the Kansas Ag Network Online with Kelly Lenz, Senate Ag Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R., Kan.) noted that, “I have concerns about the direction of the farm policy, but we’re not going to open up that bill. We are going to take a look at some of the glitches.”

He added that, “But after every farm bill you have a technical correction or you have some things that you can take care of with administrative action.”


2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee Report

Categories: Nutrition

Recall that in a February 11th House Ag Committee hearing, Chairman Michael Conaway (R., Tex.) and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack had an exchange on the Dietary Guideline issue.

Sec. Vilsack noted that, “Well, first of all, these are recommendations which the Department of Health & Human Services and the Department of Agriculture are free to accept, reject, or modify based on, ultimately, the decision-making that we are responsible for. Secondly, these folks get together, they do literature review of the latest science. It’s supposed to be driven by science and it needs to be driven by science. There is a lot of issues that have to be resolved yet. This is by no means finalized.”

Chairman Conaway pointed out that, “Well, again, you know, we’ve mentioned the science-based decision-making process, and nutrition science ought to drive the train and not sustainability or environment things, other things like that. It ought to be nutrition-based science, so appreciate that.”

AP writer Mary Clare Jalonick reported today that, “A government advisory committee is recommending the first real limits on added sugars, but it’s backing off stricter ones for salt and cholesterol. It calls for an environmentally friendly diet lower in red and processed meats.

“The Agriculture and Health and Human Services departments will use Thursday’s report to write new dietary guidelines, due by the end of the year. The guidelines influence everything from federally subsidized school lunches to food package labels to doctors’ advice.”

Wall Street Journal Video: Diet Experts Push More Plants, Less Meat in Nod to Environment

Tennille Tracy reported on Thursday at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “The focus on sustainable diets is angering the meat industry, particularly beef producers, accused of taking a particularly heavy toll on the environment.

“‘The committee’s foray into the murky waters of sustainability is well beyond its scope and expertise,’ said Barry Carpenter, president of the North American Meat Institute, which represents beef and poultry producers.

“The meat industry believes the panel, which has been meeting for well over a year, is pursuing a broader antimeat agenda, even though it doesn’t recommend specific daily reductions in meat or poultry consumption.”

Roberto Ferdman and Peter Whoriskey reported on Thursday at The Washington Post Online that, “The advisory panel’s report prompted immediate criticism from Congress — as well as a warning from Rep. Robert B. Aderholt (R-Ala.), chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the budget for the Agriculture Department.

“‘Chairman Aderholt is skeptical of the panel’s departure from utilizing sound science as the criteria for the guidelines,’ according to Brian Rell, a spokesman. ‘Politically motivated issues such as taxes on certain foods and environmental sustainability are outside their purview.’

“He warned that the panel committee would ‘keep this in mind’ as it considers funding the agencies this spring.”

Bloomberg writers Alan Bjerga and Doni Bloomfield reported today that, “Americans should pay taxes on sugary sodas and snacks as a way to cut down on sweets, though they no longer need to worry about cholesterol, according to scientists helping to revamp dietary guidelines as U.S. obesity levels surge.

“The recommendations Thursday from the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee also call for Americans to reduce meat consumption and to take sustainability into account when dining.”

The Bloomberg writers pointed out that, “The sustainability initiative endorses plant-based diets and urges more consumption of farm-raised fish as ways to alleviate stress on the environment. The idea sparked action in Congress: An appropriations bill passed last year includes a nonbinding provision telling the USDA and HHS to ‘only include nutrition and dietary information.’

“HHS, which will write the guidelines, and the USDA jointly appointed the committee, then will act on its recommendations after considering public comment for 45 days. Final guidelines are to be released by the end of this year” [related USDA news release here].

See also these Bloomberg video with Mr. Bjerga:

Senate Ag Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R., Kan.) indicated on Thursday that, ““I am glad the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee report has finally been released, so we can all stop wondering what it was going to say. This report is disappointing, as it is clear with some of these recommendations, the non-political, science-based process has gone awry. The Dietary Guidelines are an essential part of combating obesity and improving the diets of all Americans, and it is crucial the Guidelines be free from political influence and be completely based in nutrition science. It appears this has not been the case, and that is troubling news. As USDA and HHS take this report into consideration and develop the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, I hope they work to restore integrity to the process and preserve the independent, unbiased and nutrition science-based nature of previous Guidelines.”


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