National Food Policy Updates

Since the beginning of the new year, the farm bill, AKA the Agriculture Act of 2014, has officially been signed into law. After over a year of delays, the act will finally institute updates to food related policy affecting agriculture, conservation programs, and food assistance programs. Specifically, the 2014 farm bill spells out $8.7 billion in cuts to SNAP, a cut that will impact the amount of assistance a given household receives per month, as well as the qualification requirements of certain states. While the new bill does mean cuts to SNAP, the bill will increase investments in healthy food access initiatives, local food, organic agriculture, and rural development by nearly 50%, bringing the total investment amount to $501 million over the next five years. To learn more, check out this farm bill re-cap from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition website.

In addition to the updates made to the Farm Bill, late February also saw the proposal from first lady Michelle Obama of a set of updates to the Nutrition Guideline Labels. These labels are governed on the federal level, and help consumers determine the contents and health of food items they are considering for purchase. Updates include making the Calorie count more prominent, and adding a line to distinguish between naturally occurring sugars and added sugars to various food products. Additionally, the vitamins A, and C are being suggested for removal to make room for Vitamin D and Potassium, which Americans are more likely to be deficient in. Furthermore, serving sizes will be changed in certain food categories to reflect more realistic eating patterns, and provide the information that can help consumers make the best eating choices. Both food business representatives, as well as nutrition and healthy eating advocates have their own sets of criticisms for the new label suggestions. Food Business representatives question the level of research and scientific evidence behind some of the suggestions, specifically the proposal to differentiate between sugars and added sugars, denoting that it may be misleading or confusing to consumers. Nutrition and healthy eating advocates worry that these guidelines, which have not received an update in over 20 years, need a more thorough overhaul. Suggestions include the labeling of pesticide or herbicide use, hormone and antibiotic use, fertilizer use, GMO use, or labeling the percent of whole grain contained in a food item. The proposed nutrition label updates will be opened up to the general public for comment and suggestion for a 90 day period, and will likely be put into action within the next three years. To learn more, check out this article from the Washington Post.

The last program to receive major revisions in the federal food policy stratosphere was the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), which previously to the updates in late February, had not been formally updated since 1980. The updates to the program finalized an interim update of 2007 that allowed recipients to use their benefits to purchase fresh, frozen, or canned fruits and vegetables, in addition to the already approved items like bread, milk, cheese, eggs, cereal, or infant formula. This update will continue to allow mothers to greatly improve the nutrition of themselves and their families, and the 2014 finalized form will increase the amount mothers can spend on fruits and vegetables by $2 per month compared to the 2007 interim allotments. The updates also include expanded whole grain options and yogurt options that will allow mothers to continue to improve the nutritional intake of their families. To learn more, check out this great article