Journal of Food Law & Policy

Vol. 14, No. 1

Essays on the 2018 Farm Bill and Food Policy


The SNAP Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Debate: Restricting Purchases to Improve Health Outcomes of Low-Income Americans

Nicole E. Negowetti

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is a highly effective government program that reduces poverty and improves food security for millions of our country’s most vulnerable families. Amid threats of budget cuts to this critical program in the 2018 Farm Bill, advocates representing various interests have banded together in support of this vital program. However, the issue of restricting the purchase of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSB) with SNAP benefits has divided anti-hunger and public health advocates. While public health and medical officials support the idea of restrictions on junk food, arguing that SNAP should improve health and nutrition, not contribute to the obesity epidemic, anti-hunger advocates fervently oppose restrictions for being too burdensome to implement, stigmatizing, unlikely to change eating habits, and used as a vehicle to cut the size of SNAP. This article will evaluate the debates surrounding a restriction on the purchase of SSBs with SNAP benefits. It will draw on research that examines the impact of SNAP on food consumption and evaluates various factors affecting food choice and access. This article ultimately proposes a state or local pilot program in the 2018 Farm Bill to test the feasibility and effectiveness of a restriction on SSBs.


Strengthening the National Organic Program with State Organic Programs

Kelly Damewood

With an increasing amount of organic imports and steady growth in the organic sector, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Organic Program (NOP) needs additional enforcement resources to oversee a growing and evolving organic marketplace. California has the most efficient, robust organic enforcement in the U.S. because it has a state-administered organic enforcement program, the California State Organic Program (SOP). Based on the costs and benefits of the SOP, additional state organic programs are a viable means to increasing NOP enforcement resources when they are established in states where additional enforcement adds value to the state’s organic sector, organic stakeholders are highly engaged, and the state department of agriculture does not have a conflict of interest. Moreover, state organic programs should be structured to ensure high accountability, streamlined paperwork, and fair funding sources. By increasing enforcement resources through state organic programs, NOP and organic stakeholders will protect consumer confidence in the integrity of the organic seal.


The End of the Ramen Diet: Higher Education Students and SNAP Benefits

Erika M. Dunyak

Americans joke that college students have so little money that they subsist on 10 cent packs of ramen. Statistically, college students face much higher rates of food insecurity than the general population and the situation is particularly dire for students of color. Much has been written on this area in recent months and years and many commentators are seeking to denormalize poverty, hunger, and the “freshman 15” on campuses. This article will look to a solution for this hungry and often neglected population. In 2010, the Health, Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA) reauthorized the Federal School Lunch Program. HHFKA contained several innovations, however, one that is particularly relevant is the “identified students” provision. Under this scheme, students whose families already receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, Medicaid, or are enrolled in several other federal assistance programs qualify for free or reduced-price school meals without a separate application. With the next iteration of the Farm Bill, SNAP should be adjusted to similarly accommodate low income college students. Under this new program, students who qualify for Perkins Loans, Federal Work Study, Pell Grants, Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, and similar federal programs would also receive SNAP benefits without an additional application. The benefits to such a program would be tremendous. In many states, college students are specifically excluded from receiving benefits such as SNAP and Medicaid. This policy change would move students away from food insecurity, reduce the burden of schools providing high quality dining experiences that are a major contributor to the cost of higher education, reduce student debt, and bring the political capital of university students to SNAP.


Food Localization: Empowering Community Food Systems through the Farm Bill

Brian Albert Fink, Alexandra Oakley Schluntz, Joshua Ulan Galperin

The Food and Drug Administration regulates the safety and labeling of almost all food in the United States other than meat, poultry, and egg products, which fall under USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). Effective September 1, 2017, FSIS assumed inspection responsibility for catfish after years of Congressional lobbying by the small domestic catfish industry. This article examines how this unlikely legislative victory was won against free trade advocates representing much larger economic interests.


Cooperation or Compromise? Understanding the Farm Bill as Omnibus Legislation

Margaret Sova McCabe

The Farm Bill (the Bill) is the principal driver of U.S. food law and policy. Its substance spans the food system including commodities, conservation, trade, nutrition, credit, rural development, forestry, and energy. These substantive titles command much scholarly analysis yet there is comparatively little review of the law-making process that yields the Bill. Given increased focus on Congress’s ability to use its legislative powers effectively, this essay questions whether the Bill’s traditional treatment as omnibus legislation leads to beneficial coherence or too much compromise in food system policy. Interestingly, disparate stakeholders prioritize maintaining the Bill as omnibus legislation. Some scholars suggest that the omnibus process unifies because it requires producers and rural interests to be understood by consumers and urban priorities. Others suggest that nutrition spending provides powerful incentives to maintain adequate supports for farmers. These theories suggest that lawmakers transcend their interests and consider the larger food system. Viewed in this light, the Bill’s omnibus status may be beneficial. However, it may also lead to compromises and concessions that stymy innovation and progress in the food system at a time when climate change and socio-economic disparities demand new approaches. The essay’s structure follows: first will be a general history of omnibus legislation including the Bill’s omnibus treatment; second, the benefits and burdens placed on the food system by the omnibus process will be explored; and finally, it will conclude with specific ideas about the merits of the Bill as omnibus legislation in 2018 and beyond.


The Fate of Industrial Hemp in the 2018 Farm Bill – Will Our Collective Ambivalence Finally Be Resolved?

Marne Coit

We are at a crossroads in the regulation of industrial hemp, and the 2018 Farm Bill is the time to decide which path we will choose. Congress has an opportunity to clear the path for farmers in the US to participate in this burgeoning market. With an estimated 25,000 uses, industrial hemp is one of those rare crops that has both food and agricultural uses. There is undoubtedly a market for hemp products. The Hemp Industries Association (HIA) estimates that US retail sales of hemp-based products was $688 million in 2016 – up from $573 million in 2015. Under the 2014 Farm Bill, Congress seemingly paved the way for industrial hemp to once again be grown in the US, as it granted authority for states to create industrial hemp pilot programs. However, the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) interpretation of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) of 1970 still precludes farmers from fully participating in these programs. DEA claims that it has authority to regulate all species of Cannabis sativa under the CSA, and does not distinguish between marijuana and industrial hemp. In the 2018 Farm Bill, Congress has the opportunity to clarify that the definition of marijuana does not include industrial hemp, and by doing so simultaneously clarify (and limit) the scope of DEA’s authority. In order for farmers, processors and retailers to move forward, Congress must take this action, and therefore restrict DEA’s jurisdiction to marijuana. This is the only path forward for a thriving industrial hemp industry in the US.


Building Indian Country’s Future through Food, Agriculture, Infrastructure, and Economic Development in the 2018 Farm Bill

Janie Simms Hipp, Colby D. Duren, Erin Parker

With the potential of approximately $1 trillion in spending over 10 years in rural America, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) programs authorized by the Farm Bill have the ability to build and support thriving economies in rural America. Nowhere is this potential greater, or needed, than in rural Tribal communities. This paper will examine why the unique circumstances of Tribal governments, individual Native American food producers, and Tribal citizens necessitate changes in several USDA programs to serve Indian Country. Further, it will review several policy changes in various titles of the next Farm Bill reauthorization that will help empower Tribal governments and individual Native food producers to utilize the full breadth of opportunities the Farm Bill offers and allow USDA to invest in Indian Country. This includes the ability to develop and expand Tribal infrastructure, utilities, broadband, water systems, and community buildings like hospitals and fire stations; provide the means for Native agriculture businesses to thrive; and continue to address and improve the health of American Indians and Alaska Natives supporting he already great work happening in Natives communities surrounding food and agriculture. Finally, this paper will discuss how improving the Farm Bill programs for Indian Country will help bolster our work to achieve the truest form of sovereignty: feeding ourselves in our own foods systems with our own foods.


A Farm Bill to Help Farmers Weather Climate Change

Peter H. Lehner, Nathan A. Rosenberg

The Farm Bill has an enormous impact on climate change. Greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture account for almost 10 percent of total U.S. emissions and up to a quarter of all emissions globally. The Farm Bill encourages the use of carbon-intensive agricultural practices and products responsible for these emissions, but nonetheless offers several opportunities to quickly expand carbon sequestration, making it a critical piece of climate legislation. This essay will examine the climate impact of the Farm Bill, focusing on the commodity, conservation, and crop insurance programs. It then proposes politically feasible changes to these programs aimed at minimizing agricultural greenhouse gas emissions and maximizing carbon storage. The essay concludes with an ambitious, long-term set of Farm Bill proposals designed to transform the U.S. agricultural sector into a carbon sink.


Insuring a Future for Small Farms

Mary Beth Miller, D. Lee Miller

Congress created Whole Farm Revenue Protection (WFRP) in the 2014 Farm Bill to provide small, diversified, and organic operations with an insurance product tailored to their unique needs. The program stands out from other federal crop insurance programs with its blend of features that, inter alia, incentivize risk management through crop/animal diversification, increase premium subsidies for beginning producers, allow organic price elections, and recognize on-farm processing expenses. For the farmers who use it, WFRP provides more than peace of mind in the face of unpredictable weather and prices. It provides a revenue guarantee that opens up critical financing channels otherwise denied to unsecured debtors. Despite its impressive growth over three years, WFRP remains underutilized. Farmers and their advocates point to several causes, including the recordkeeping and paperwork burden; failure to cover large year-over-year increases in revenue intrinsic to young operations; skewed incentives that pay policy writers on the value of the policy; and lagging awareness among both farmers and insurers. This essay will argue that the 2018 Farm Bill provides more than an opportunity to tweak WFRP, but to build on its core principles of diversification, beginning farmer and other incentives to dramatically improve the odds that small diversified operations can get established and grow. The essay will draw on the experience of its authors, who are uniquely positioned to bridge the gap between the lived needs of beginning farmers, on the one hand, and the complex policy landscape in which farm bills are written and implemented.


Proactive Policies: Building the Farm Bill of the Future Through New Collaborations and Perspectives

Jennifer Zwagerman

The Farm Bill highlights both one of the great divides in our political process, as well as one of the most beneficial partnerships in politics. Historically, partnerships between rural and urban have been key to successful passage of the Farm Bill. However, calls to divide nutrition support and agricultural support programs continue, and there are increasingly diverse viewpoints regarding agricultural programs. To build the Farm Bill of the future, one that is comprehensive and addresses the needs of not just producers, but ultimately everyone impacted by this Bill, there needs to be a broader coalition of partnerships and voices involved in the development process. This required not focusing on the “us vs. them” mentality and distinct silos of programs, but increased dialogue and partnerships between agricultural (traditional and specialty crops), environmental, and consumer organizations. In this current political and social climate, new partnerships and increased dialogue are keys to developing programs and legislation with broad support. I advocate the importance of those involved in representing the food industry to develop an understanding of the agricultural production sector, for those representing all aspects of agriculture to have an understanding of food production, retail, and marketing, and for both to understand the role and impact of the consumer in this process. These broad coalitions of support will help ensure future Congressional support for this type of comprehensive food, farm, rural and nutritional legislation, something that appears increasingly difficult each time this cycle comes around.