Tell Congress: Low-Income Families Need Better Nutrition, Not Trump's Boxes of Processed GMO Junk Food
President Trump's penchant for junk food--McDonald's filet 'o fish sandwiches, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Oreos, pizza, Diet Coke--have been widely reported.
Trump has the right to eat what he chooses (though it's unfortunate that his food choices support an industrial agriculture system that pollutes the environment and contributes to a growing public health crisis).
But should Trump's U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) be allowed to force boxes of factory farm, GMO junk food on low-income families? We don't think so.
TAKE ACTION: Tell Congress: Low-Income Families Need Better Nutrition, Not Trump's Boxes of Processed GMO Junk Food
In his latest budget proposal, Trump unveiled a plan to cut government spending on food for low-income families. Trump's "America's Harvest Box" program would give low-income families less money (about half what they normally receive) to spend on fresh food.
In place of the missing food dollars, the government would send families a monthly box of government-issued food products such as peanut butter, canned goods (including canned meat from factory farms), pasta, cereal, "shelf stable" milk and other products.
Trump claims the "Harvest Box" food would be "preselected for nutritional value and economic benefit to American farmers."
But the only farmers who would benefit under the Trump's proposal are the already heavily subsidized growers of industrial GMO crops--the kind grown with massive amounts of chemicals, and used to make highly processed foods that dish up plenty of calories with minimal nutritional value.
The "Harvest Box" program would be administered by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as the Food Stamp Program. SNAP is funded through the Farm Bill, which expires and is re-written every five years. The current farm bill, signed into law on Feb. 7, 2014, is up again for discussion this year.
We reached out to Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) for his take on the "Harvest Box." Blumenauer, who last year introduced the Food and Farm Act which calls for a massive overhaul of the Farm Bill, had this to say:
"This proposal is utterly ridiculous and the result of an inept administration out of touch with the needs of people across America. We need to do more to strengthen SNAP and increase access to healthier foods--in fact, I'm working to make that happen in the next Farm Bill. Trump's plan is nothing more than a slap in the face of our most vulnerable."
We also reached out to Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine), who took a similarly dim view of the "Harvest Box" plan:
"The Harvest Box proposal is a ridiculous and terrible idea. Helping families address food insecurity means more than just sending them enough food to fill their bellies--it means opening access to nutritious, high-quality foods that can help keep them healthy. A box of shelf-stable items is not a replacement for benefits that can be used to buy a ripe tomato, wild blueberries, or any number of healthy foods out in the community. We should be looking for ways to help, incentivize, and encourage SNAP recipients to access these kinds of healthy foods, not sending them a box of highly-processed calories and calling it a day."
Indeed, Maine takes a different approach to administering the SNAP program--it's called "Harvest Bucks." Under the program, SNAP recipients receive discounts and bonuses when they purchase locally grown food. The result is better, more nutritious food for families, more business for local farms (which receive full price for their products), and more money going into the local economy.
As we wrote last week, SNAP benefits are already too low under the current Farm Bill, averaging less than $1.39 per person per meal. That drives SNAP recipients to fill up on cheap, high-calorie, nutrient-poor foods.
According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study, people with the highest consumption of federally subsidized foods had a 37-percent greater risk of being obese. They were also significantly more likely to have belly fat, abnormal cholesterol, high levels of blood sugar and inflammation.
Trump's "Harvest Box" would make a bad situation worse.
There are plenty of practical reasons Trump's "Harvest Box" program makes no sense. The chief public policy officer for the Food Marketing Institute, which represents grocery retailers, told Politico:
"Perhaps this proposal would save money in one account, but based on our decades of experience in the program, it would increase costs in other areas that would negate any savings."
Matthew Gritter, assistant professor of political science at Angelo State University who's authored books and articles about civil rights and social policy, wrote this about the "Harvest Box" proposal:
I believe that Trump's harvest-box concept would be a logistical nightmare to carry out. In the rather unlikely event that the cuts he seeks do happen, it would become harder for low-income people to get healthy food.
That, in turn, would increase the already large burden on food banks and other nonprofits helping the many Americans who slip through the safety net in good times and bad to avoid hunger.
It's time to let Congress to know that vulnerable children need wholesome, nutrient-dense fresh (and preferably organic) foods--not processed factory farm food products. Tell Congress that the USDA should support more local, organic and regenerative farmers--not factory farms and junk food producers.