The Next Front In The Food Stamp War

Food stamps are pictured. | Reuters

We try to shop very close to the distribution day so the perishables would not spoil, said Nwaneri, who hands out food on the first Saturday of every month. The Maryland pastor is part of a network of more than 500partner agencies that distribute 45 million pounds of food to more than 500,000 people across the Washington area each year. And although the distribution includes bread, cereal and canned goods, there is increasing focus among church food banks to supply fresh vegetables and meat for the good health of those in need. Fresh food thats the key to lowering high blood pressure and diabetes, said Jeri Bailey, director of the food pantry at the Dupont Park Seventh-Day Adventist Church, who was at the food bank the same day as Nwaneri. We prepare bags for 130families a week that includes a meat, fresh greens, canned goods and other items, Bailey said. But the distribution of fresh food means extra attention must be paid to ensuring that the donated perishables dont spoil. Nearly 36 million tons of food were wasted nationally in 2011, said Nancy Roman, president of the Capital Area Food Bank. Roman recently helped organize a summit in Alexandria to address how local churches and organizations can reduce food spoilage. Participants included Ben Simon, founder of the Food Recovery Network at the University of Maryland; Elise H. Golan, director for sustainable development at the Department of Agriculture; Tom ODonnell, an environmental scientist for the Environmental Protection Agency; and Meghan Stasz, director of sustainability for the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which represents such major brands as Kraft, General Mills and Nestle. Food waste is getting some attention from federal agencies, but [the summit] really connected it to people serving in the communities to begin a conversation that is needed in our region, Roman said in an interview. We are committed to fresh food and vegetables, but we have to pay attention to waste. As panelists talked about how more and more companies are allowed to give out food because of Good Samaritan donation laws, Gerri Magruder, coordinator of the food pantry at First Baptist Church of Capitol Heights , stood in frustration. I want real-life specifics. I would like to leave here with real solutions, said Magruder, who told the panel that there was a shortage of fresh produce when her volunteers recently went to the main food bank to pick up items for their weekly community giveaways.

Global cereal production, which includes wheat and corn, is expected to be 8% higher over 2012s level, at 2.49 billion tons. The U.S., the worlds largest corn producer, is responsible for the bulk of the increase, expected to harvest a record crop of 348 million tonsthats 27% higher than the previous year. U.S. corn supplies have been tight since the size of last years harvest was hit by severe drought. But after high acreage seeded with corn this spring and largely favorable summer weather, the U.S. Department of Agriculture forecasts record U.S. corn output this year. That should push corn prices lower. Current levels mark a drastic turnaround since food prices soared to new heights in early 2011 amid global supply constraints for cereals, sugar and cocoa. Rising food prices helped spark the unrestknown as the Arab Springthat analysts say ultimately ousted the leaders of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. The London-based International Grains Council this month said world corn production during the 2013-14 crop year will hit 943.2 million tons. It also predicted that world wheat production will increase to 692.6 million tons, reflecting better prospects for the European crop than previously expected and a larger harvest out of Russia and Ukraine. Still, despite ample supplies of cereals, the UN warned that food shortages continue to plague certain countries. Syria, because of the ongoing political tension has 4 million people which are in need of humanitarian assistance.

World Food Prices Continue to Decline on Cheaper Cereal

Thats 10 times the comparably meager $4 billion in cuts included in the Senate farm bill. They point to the programs dramatic growth to $80 billion in 2012, up from to $35 billion in 2007. Whether significant cuts to SNAP are needed remains a hotly debated subject, but there is little argument over the need to reduce fraud in the program. Especially not after the USDAs report , released in August, found retailers willing to pay cash in return for the government food credit stole $858 million annually from government coffers from 2009 through 2011. Thats nearly triple the $330 million stolen annually from 2006 through 2008. Only about 15% of all the food stamps used by shoppers in the U.S. are spent at small stores, but they are also the source of 85% of the fraud, according to the USDAs report . The USDA report is essentially a follow up to a Government Accountability Office report released several years ago that told the USDA it needed to focus on small convenience and grocery stores in order to cut down on food stamp fraud. USDAhas good reason to see these small-scale, privately owned stores as a significance source of food stamp fraud. These stores are often short on the fresh fruit, vegetables and meat that SNAP vouchers are intended to purchase, the GAO report said. The USDA isnt waiting for further marching orders from Congress, having just wrapped up a five-city listening tour aimed at hearing the publics complaints and suggestions regarding SNAP fraud. The department also has issued what it calls a request for information in the Federal Register. The document, which is essentially a precursor to a new federal rule proposal, reveals that USDA is considering such measures as disqualifying smaller grocery stores and convenience stores from accepting food stamps if they sell large quantities of alcohol and tobacco or banning them from the government program if their primary business isnt selling food.

Food Prices: One Year After

No. International prices are still higher than their historical trend — higher than the peak in 2008, for example. On the other hand, regardless of price levels, excessive price volatility presents additional challenges, especially for small-scale farmers in developing countries with restricted access to financial mechanisms to contain the impacts of low or negative returns. The G20 Leaders’ Declaration at the St Petersburg Summit was right to recognize that the agricultural market situation still needs close attention. It is important to recall that the rise in food prices that started in 2006 came after three decades of falling prices that brought the agricultural sector in many poor and developing countries to its knees. High prices offers an opportunity to rebuild the livelihoods of small-scale producers, however, this is not happening yet. And, if high food prices are the new normal, then governments need to adapt to this situation by increasing resilience of the poorer populations and by strengthening social protection programs, including cash transfers. Discussions of all these issues are usually prompted by new episodes of soaring food prices and take place against a background of turmoil in international markets. In such circumstances there can be little time for strategic thinking. When the situation calls for immediate, expedient policy actions, the choices made are often those that generate quick results and have relatively low short-term costs. These solutions can, however, have undesirable side effects and unexpected costs in the longer term The current period of relative calm on international markets gives an opportunity to reflect on a more considered assessment of how the international community can best respond to food price volatility and work together to make sure that food prices, higher or lower, do not have a negative impact on food security.