Matt HealeyWednesday,6 March 2013

The Snap:

Over the next few weeks I want to highlight programs that the federal government should eliminate. This is in response to the horizontal cuts due to the sequester. In the research for these posts I came across the following. The government spends $80 billion on the SNAP program (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) — food stamps.

The Download:

I am not opposed to this program, I actually support it. People fall on hard times and as part of the social net this is a worthwhile expense. However, I think this program needs to be reformed and the reforms can help solve two problems: food insecurity and obesity. The reform that I want to see is to limit the foods that people can buy with food snaps. I would like to see a ban the use of food stamps to purchase any junk food. Top on the list would be soda, candy, cookies, ice cream, any breakfast cereal with over 25% sugar. There would be loop holes and the list would have to be constantly modified. But it would be a start.

This is not a new idea. It has been proposed in the past. Most recently by South Carolina, and Michele Simon, a public health advocate in Oakland. In both cases the food industry response has been the same. They fight to for the recipients right to chose what they eat. The refrain is the government should not be telling people what they can and cannot eat. The people with this argument in this case is that the government should be telling people what hey should be eating if it is paying. No one is saying that the poor who are on food snaps cannot have junk food, only that if they want it, they should pay for it themselves. The goal of the program should be the provide nutrition to the poor, not to protect the profits of the processed food industry.

The benefit of making the changes would be improved health of the poor. Everyone but the lobbyists for the food industry agrees that there is a connection between poor eating habits and obesity, diabetes, and other chronic health problems. Further, the correlation between income and these problems is startlingly high. By improving the eating habits of the poor we could start to reduce these problems and thus the cost of the providing health care. The only group that would be hurt is the processed food industry. Here is a snapshot of some their profits in 2012:

PepsiCo: $6.4 Billion
Kratf Foods: $3.5 Billion
General Mills: $1. 8 Billion
Sara Lee: 1.3 Billion
Kellogg: $1.2 Billion
Heinz: $900 Million
ConAgra Foods: $817 Million
Campbell Foods: $805 Million
Hershey’s: $629 Million
J.M. Smuckers: $480 Million

Personally, I would prefer to slow the growth of health care costs at the expense of food industry profits.

Hat Tips:

South Carolina, Michele Simon, American Beverage industry response, Consumer food industry profits, Image Credit: Flickr

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