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Thursday April 26, 2018

Incentivizing SNAP produce purchases

This year's Farm Bill reauthorized funding for a program carried over from the 2008 Farm Bill providing $20 million to test whether subsidizing produce purchases at farmers markets would lead SNAP recipients to healthier eating. USDA's "Healthy Incentives Pilot," otherwise known as HIP, credited SNAP households with a 30 percent rebate on purchases of targeted fruits and vegetables--those same fruits and vegetables eligible for WIC cash vouchers. Although the formal details of the rulemaking process is not completed on this year's reauthorization, the renewed HIP will likely now be extended to supermarkets, offering an expected $35 million dollars of incentive funds for the 2014-15 fiscal year.

An important question the pilots are supposed to discover is this: What, if any, impact do those incentives make on healthy eating? Several anecdotal reports from around the nation report suspiciously glowing increases in produce sales and better health when markets offer the incentives. But the question has largely gone unanswered in black and white.

Now, a Tufts study scheduled for publication in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics has set out to actually measure the impact. Using HIP data from Hampden County, Mass., a mix of 27 urban, suburban and rural cities and towns and approximately 50,000 SNAP households, the Tufts University researchers looked at consumption patterns during a test period of 14 months during 2011 and 2012. A randomly selected sample of SNAP recipients were given a 30-cent credit on every SNAP dollar they spent on targeted fruits and vegetables, which they could then spend on any food or beverage eligible for SNAP. Incentives were capped at $60 monthly per household.

The study found for consumers over 16 years old, intake of the targeted produce was slightly more than one-fifth of a cup higher among HIP participants than non-participants, an increase of not quite 25 percent. The intake of fruits and vegetables from mixed foods did not significantly differ between HIP participants and nonparticipants, suggesting HIP worked as intended: It increased the intake of targeted fruits and vegetables alone, without encouraging consumption of added sugars, fats, oils or other ingredients that would be found in mixed foods. In addition, the HIP participants’ consumption of total fruits and vegetables--that is, those beyond the list of targeted fruits and vegatables--was about one-third cup higher than nonparticipants.

Although the 25 percent increase related to incentivization is nothing to dismiss, it is important to put the figures in context, the researchers caution. The federal government’s Healthy People 2020 objectives recommend a total daily fruit and vegetable intake of 3.68 cups--still roughtly one cup higher than even the subsidized group consumed in this study. "If the goal is to bring fruit and vegetable intake up to recommended levels," they wrote, "... though not sufficient on its own, a HIP-like program is a promising strategy for moderately increasing fruit and vegetable intake."

And one more bit of context: Under this new authorization, USDA will likely allocate $35 million per year to HIP. SNAP now serves 47 million participants. If every SNAP beneficiary were eventually covered by HIP incentives, that $35 million works out to only about 75 cents per consumer for a whole year. If every SNAP household were allocated the $60 monthly incentive cap this study showed was necessary to achieve a one-fifth cup increase in fruit and vegetable consumption, the program cost would skyrocket from $35 million per year to more than $16 billion.

When is a stream not a stream?

The Nebraska Cattlemen, Nebraska Corn Growers, Nebraska Farm Bureau, Nebraska Pork Producers, Nebraska State Dairy Association and Nebraska Soybean Association joined together early this month to demand the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency withdraw its “Waters of the U.S.” interpretive rule. The proposal would widely expand the agency's oversight of business and farms by changing the definition of waterways subject to regulation. The agency last year announced it was using the process of a draft guidance document to more clearly define which water bodies should be protected from pollution under the Clean Water Act. EPA argued then that "important waters now lack clear protection under the law, and businesses and regulators face uncertainty and delay." In effect, this new draft guidance would clarify whether EPA can regulate all waters in the county or only those which can be navigated by boat.

"EPA’s proposed Clean Water Act rule will significantly affect our family farm. The proposed rule will expand the scope of “navigable waters” subject to Clean Water Act jurisdiction by regulating ditches, small and remote “waters” and ephemeral drains where water moves only when it rains," writes Missouri hog farmer Chris Chinn. "Most of these areas look more like land than like “waters” and they are dry most of the year. This proposed rule means any ditch on your land will be regulated by the EPA, even if it only holds water one day a year."

Bringing such dry waters under EPA's control will make impossible many common and important practices like weed control, fertilization and manure spreading near them, Chinn argues, because going through the expensive and time-consuming process of getting a government permit will be economically impractical. Even routine tasks like building fences will require permits if they will be built in or near a ditch. Many farming practices are time-sensitive and farmers cannot afford to wait on a government agency to process a permit, she says, and the regulation would leave EPA with too much flexibility in defining exactly what is and is not a "pollutant" subject to regulation.

The proposal "will cripple the ability of farmers and ranchers to continue to produce food," she writes.

In May, Nebraska Congressman Adrian Smith joined 230 other House members in a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy asking the agency to halt the proposal. Smith says the expanding power of EPA over farm land and waters is a "top priority" with his constituents, and it also represents a troublesome general widening of EPA's powers that should concern everyone.

"What EPA seems to be doing lately," Smith told WNAX Radio in Yanktown, S.D., "is constantly looking for ways in which they can go further.... The President has very clearly stated that he wants to go around Congress if we won't do what he is telling us to do. In terms of Waters of the U.S., I think it's pretty clear what Congressional intent was: Having the navigable waters as the designation and not the various water gutters on every street across America."

He says that’s why he and 230 other House members have written EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy asking the agency halt the Waters of the U.S. proposal. - See more at: file:///C:/Documents%20and%20Settings/Mike/My%20Documents/Food%20Chain%20Communications/Farmer-to-market/Topics/Politics/Nebraska-specific/Nebraska%20Congressman%20Has%20Problems%20With%20EPA%20Rules%20_%20Radio%20570%20WNAX.htm#sthash.v0IFyTlK.dpuf

Although the issue is most important to farmers who may find themselves with fewer options for managing excessively wet and dry lands without blessing from the federal agency, the issue is not limited to farms, the American Farm Bureau has suggested in its fight against the EPA proposal. Small businesses, like grocery retailers, have a similar stake in reining in EPA’s growing tendency to legislate by regulatory interpretation. Indeed, grocery retailers have had their own experience with the regulatory guidance document in years past, including FDA guidance on directives to force retailers to excessive measures to ensure minors don’t buy tobacco, to OSHA hazard communication paperwork impositions.

Anyone involved with a stake in the health of the economy should be concerned by this increasing “flood of regulation,” Missouri representative and chair of the House Small Business Committee Sam Graves said last year. “We bring in farmers and small business owners every week to testify,” Graves said, “And we always ask them, what is it you’re looking to do in the future? What are you looking at in terms of expansion and additional job creation? They say, ‘Look, we’re just going to kind of wait and see what happens because we don’t know what the regulatory environment is going to look like. We continue to get hammered…mainly by the EPA….”

“So small businesses—and the general economy—aren’t moving forward….” Graves said. Not only EPA, but also the Department of Labor, OSHA, and other regulators need to be slowed, made more accountable and held to legislative controls that ensure all businesses can make meaningfully reliable predictions about the regulatory climate in which they’re making expansion decisions.

Missour will sue California over egg requirements

Nebraska's Attorney General this month announced Nebraska was joining in a lawsuit challenging California law that requires eggs sold in that state be produced under strict "humane" standards.

In a prepared statement, Governor Dave Heineman said, "There is concern that the California egg production standards create a precedent that would negatively impact Nebraska agriculture. This is about protecting Nebraska's farmers and ranchers from the potential for regulatory burdens that hamper interstate trade. It's not only about protecting our egg producers. This is also about the precedent this sets for our beef, swine and dairy producers."

The lawsuit was filed by Missouri's Attorney General last month. Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster explained the rationale for the suit at a December meeting of the Missouri Farm Bureau. California's standards, passed by the state's voters as a ballot initiative in 2008, created a new state law prohibiting any confinement of farm animals so they can't turn around freely, lie down, stand up and fully extend their limbs. Set to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2015, it was believed to be the first time voters were asked directly whether to ban the practice of confining laying hens in small, so-called "battery" cages. Both the Nebraska Governer and Attorney General Jon Bruning argued in joining the suit the California law is yet another attempt by the Washington-based Humane Society of the United States to hurt agriculture, Nebraska's top industry.

"Nebraska farmers and ranchers have taken great pride in caring for their livestock for generations," said Bruning. "We stand with Nebraska ag producers and will fight HSUS' unconstitutional attempt to dictate farming practices in our state."

Five other states have joined the lawsuit against California. Missouri Pork Association head Don Nikodim has called the California law a clear violation of the U.S. Commerce Clause. The U.S. Constitution's Commerce Clause gives only Congress the power to regulate trade between states. Missouri's Koster and other opponents argue that although California's law doesn't discriminate against any single state in its application, the state has failed to show the effects it imposes on commerce outside the state are minor in comparison to the local concern it seeks to address.

“I don't believe voters in California should be able to set agricultural policy in Missouri," Koster told the Missouri Farm Bureau assembly Dec. 9. "...California's new law goes further than just protecting chickens. It's also intended to advantage California farmers,” he said. “The new law says that anyone who sells eggs in California must house their own hens in accordance with California's animal protection standards, even if those animals are raised here in Missouri.

“If Missouri egg producers want to continue selling their eggs in California, they will have to retool their operations here in Missouri, and that will raise the cost of eggs in our state and across the nation,” he said.

California's 2008 ballot initiative is seen as the impetus behind national legislation proposed this year to eventually apply similar restrictions to egg production across the nation. You can read details of what that failed legislation would have meant to you here.

The rise of the food police

"You may talk of the tyranny of Nero and Tiberius;" 19th century British political philosopher Walter Bagehot famously wrote, "but the real tyranny is the tyranny of your next-door neighbor." Have we entered the age of such "permeating influence and...obedience" to public opinion about what we should eat or not eat, sell or not sell when it comes to food and supermarket items? Only a quarter of the way into 2014, writes Baylen Linnekin, executive director of Washington's Keep Food Legal foundation, the year is already shaping up to be an unprecedented "crushing regulatory assault...on the right to grow, raise, produce, buy, sell, share, cook, eat and drink the foods you want." To Linnekin's daunting list, which you can read here, Farmer Goes to Market adds these other recent developments in the rise of supermarket anti-freedom:

Psst, buddy: Want to buy some whole milk?

A bill introduced late last month in the Connecticut legislature would ban daycare centers and home-based child-care providers from giving children under their care whole or 2-percent milk, unless the center could demonstrate a "documented" medical need. The "Act Concerning Nutrition Standards for Child Care Settings" limits milk to 1 percent or less milk-fat, in the interest of tackling the nation's "childhood obesity epidemic." Lest you think the state law is an isolated occurrence, it's important to remember USDA two years banned whole milk from its national school-lunch program, which serves about 32 million American children, also in the name of reducing obesity.

The irony, writes Elizabeth Nolan Brown, at, is that research is beginning to question the traditional wisdom that reduced fat from milk actually leads to healthier kids. In addition to being more processed than whole milk, skim and low-fat milk may also actually contribute to children eating more than necessary, because it lacks whole milk's protein and fats that satisfy the appetite and make people less likely to overeat. She cites two scientific studies that showed drinking skim or 1 percent milk was actually associated with weight gain in pre-school and pre-and early-teen kids, while drinking whole or 2 percent milk was not.

"In addition to infringing on personal liberty," she writes, "the Connecticut based more on some legislator's harebrained idea of how nutrition and diet work than any actual nutrition or dietary science."

E-cigs are E-vil?

In a highly visible announcement two weeks ago, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration told the industry it plans to begin regulating electronic cigarettes for the first time, a move that would likely require health warnings similar to those on traditional cigarettes. Despite refusing to call for even more drastic regulatory measures some opponents of the nicotine-delivering devices have called for, including limiting television ads and flavorings, FDA nevertheless concluded some regulation is necessary to rein in the overly free market for the relatively new products. "I call the market for e-cigarettes the wild, wild West in the absence of regulations," Mitchell Zeller, head of FDA's Center for Tobacco Products, told a news conference announcing the decision.

The agency isn't new to attempts to regulate the electronic devices. Five years ago, it tried to regulate them as medical devices, until a federal court struck down the attempt. In 2009, the agency sought to impose restrictions on them as medical devices designed to deliver nicotine, a chemical compound that is addictive. Their growing popularity has led Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and other cities to ban or control their use in public places.

The problem with such bans, advocates of the devices point out, is that little or no evidence exists that the delivery of nicotine through e-cigarettes bring any of the demonstrated health effects of smoking traditional cigarettes. It's the smoke that carries the cancer-causing compounds known to be associated with cigarettes into the lungs of smokers and nearby people, which e-cigarettes do not cause. Regulating e-cigarettes should be done based only on the clear health impacts of nicotine, not cigarette smoke, they argue. Such definitive data does not exist, even an FDA official, Priscilla Callahan-Lyon, recognized in a recent scientific journal review she authored on the devices.

Pay no attention to that model behind the ad

For years, academics and other advocates of "protecting" children from marketing claims designed to entice them to eat unhealthy foods have justified the infringement on freedom to say what you want in advertising by arguing that children are incapable of distinguishing reality from the made-up world of modern advertising. Fair enough, whether you agree or not. But now, legislation is beginning to expand that protection to those who should have the ability to know better, but apparently don't; in particular, young women.

Two California representatives have introduced a bill in Congress that would eventually limit or ban "Photoshopping" models in advertisements, that is, using computer enhancement to create model photos that have "materially changed the physical characteristics of the faces and bodies of the individuals depicted." The regulation is backed by advocacy groups like the Eating Disorders Coalition who argue such restriction is necessary to protect young women from "[growing up] with unhealthy and unattainable notions of what they should look like."

"Advertisers...need to be accountable for not just what they sell, but how they sell it," said Seth Matlins, founder of Feel More Better, a site to "help empower girls and women to be happy and healthy."

"I’m a fan of commerce," Matlins told the media. "This isn’t anti-commerce or advertising; it’s a health issue."

Which state may be next for animal-rights political action?

Researchers at Oklahoma State looked at the history of state ballot initiatives restricting the confinement of farm animals and chickens, matched the demographics of the voters who supported those initiatives in California, and then conducted a "thought experiment" predicting the likelihood of success of similar agendas in other states. Here are the top half dozen most likely states to see action.

No. 6: Rhode Island

No. 6: Rhode Island

Negligible hog production and nearly no egg-laying hens means few farmers to mount an organized opposition. Predicted percentage of voters who would vote for an initiative like California's Prop. 2: 64 percent.


No. 5: Massachussetts

Like its neighbor to the south, Massachusetts' demographics favoring higher income, higher education, age, religion and political affiliations similar to California's increases its chance of accepting regulation on animal production. "An initiative to ban gestation crates in Massachusetts is predicted to pass with high likelihood," the Oklahoma State researchers write. And even though Massachusetts produces more eggs than Rhode Island, unlike that state, it allows direct ballot initiatives, with low obstacles to getting one on the ballot: The signatures needed must only exceed 3 percent of the number of votes last cast for governor.

New Jersey

No. 4: New Jersey

Just because a state doesn't have a ballot initiative process, as in New Jersey, doesn't make it immune from regulation, the Oklahoma study warns. The Garden State has already flirted with animal-farming restrictions similar to California's: Legislation to ban gestation crates was passed by both the New Jersey House and Senate. Although eventually vetoed by Governor Chris Christie in June 2013, the veto barely survived a highly contentious override attempt by the state senate. Expected percentage who would support a California-type initiative: 69 percent.

New York

No. 3: New York

Annual hog sales of an estimated $28 million and egg production of 1.2 billion annually notwithstanding, New York follows the political demographics of its New England neighbors closely enough to make the likelihood of support for an initiative rise to 70 percent of voters.


No. 2: Louisiana

With fully seven in 10 of its voters predicted to support a California-type initiative, the results for southern and relatively more conservative Louisiana momentarily confounded the Oklahoma researchers. What explains the southern and rural state's affinity for a political initiative so favored by its Northeastern counterparts? Religion. Louisiana's heavily Roman Catholic identity tilts it toward supporting restricting farm practices in the researchers' demographic modeling.


No. 1: Maryland

Maryland's demographics lead the state to the top of the list of most likely to support a ballot initiative, with 72 percent of voters predicted to back one. Although the state may not be a leader in either hog or laying-hen production, "do not doubt a nonagricultural state’s ability to influence livestock policy," the researchers caution. They predict groups like the Humane Society of the United States will continue to target states with small hog and hen populations, hoping to score victories that can be used to fan negative publicity across the country that could eventually be turned into both "voluntary" restrictions by large pork and egg buyers and national legislation.

Where did Nebraska fall? Hint: Click here for the six states least likely to welcome animal-welfare legislation.

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