Food Stamps Again A Vivid Symbol In Poverty Debate

Stepping up to the plate to reduce food waste

Food and farms In Congress, it’s a marriage of convenience. Food stamp policy has been packaged in the same bill with farm subsidies and other agricultural programs since the 1970s. It was a canny way of assuring that urban lawmakers who wanted the poverty program would vote for farm spending. That worked until this year, when conservatives balked at the skyrocketing cost of food stamps. In June, a farm bill that included food stamps was defeated in the Republican-led House because fiscal conservatives felt it didn’t cut the program deeply enough. In response, GOP leaders split the food and farm programs in two. The House passed the farm version in July and the food stamp version on Thursday. Both passed with narrow votes. The House and Senate versions must be reconciled before the five-year farm bill can become law, and that won’t be an easy task. Food stamps remain in the farm bill passed by the Senate. That bill made only a half-percent cut to food stamps and the Democratic-led Senate will be reluctant to cut more deeply or to evict the poverty program from its home in the farm bill. Obama supported the cuts in the Senate bill, but has opposed any changes beyond that. The White House threatened to veto the House food stamp bill. What now? The current farm and food law expires at the end of the month.

GTY 181179078

You probably congratulated yourself on a lucky escape. After all, who knows what might have happened had you unwittingly consumed a food a few hours past its “sell by” date? In fact, it’s likely you would never have noticed. Food date labels are typically unrelated to food safety. They are simply a manufacturer’s suggestions for “peak quality” and a shelf life they set by their own market standards. The dates don’t tell you when your food will spoil, nor do they indicate the safety of food. A new date labels study released this week by the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic reveals that this mass confusion imposes costs on consumers and businesses and leads to a staggering amount of waste. In America, we throw away 40 percent of the food we produce every year. That’s nearly half our food $165 billion dollars’ worth in the garbage, instead of in our stomachs. Nine out of ten of us discard food and likely are convinced we need to go out and buy more because of the mistaken belief that the “sell by” date has a food safety implication for ourselves or our family. It’s estimated that 160 billion pounds of food is dumped in the United States annually, in part due to this labeling confusion. That’s almost enough wasted food to fill up a football stadium every day.