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Published May 17, 2010, 02:37 PM

House ag chairman wants food stamps’ ties to obesity examined

WASHINGTON — House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said May 13 that he would not support any increase in funding for the food stamp program unless its possible contributions to obesity are addressed.

By: Jerry Hagstrom, Special to Agweek

WASHINGTON — House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said May 13 that he would not support any increase in funding for the food stamp program unless its possible contributions to obesity are addressed.

At a committee hearing with economists and academics on the 2012 farm bill at which witnesses raised the issue of the possible impact of farm and nutrition subsidies on obesity, Peterson said, “There will be pressure to spend more (on nutrition programs), but I am reluctant to do that if we do not fix the underlying problems.”

Hunger and obesity

Peterson made the statement after Robert Paarlberg, a Wellesley College and Harvard University professor, said that because dieticians say consumption of sweetened soft drinks contribute so much to the obesity program, he favors changing food stamp rules to ban their purchase just as the program forbids purchase of tobacco and alcohol. Peterson later told reporters that Paarlberg’s proposal “needs to be looked at.”

Peterson also said he does not understand why anti-hunger advocates keep saying there is a simultaneous problem of hunger and obesity.

Jean Kinsey, a University of Minnesota economics professor, replied that when people are hungry, “they tend to eat what is available,” and that those foods are usually cheap, high in fat, dense in calories and nutritionally poor. Kinsey said that the most frequent question she gets is “Why doesn’t our government subsidize the production of fruits and vegetables like (or instead of) corn and soybeans?”

But Peterson told the reporters, “I do not believe the solution to obesity is spending more money on fruits and vegetables. That might be part of the solution. I don’t know where we get the money to do that.”

Subsidies

Discussing changes to farm subsidies, Iowa State University professor Bruce Babcock suggested changing the trigger for payments in the average crop revenue election program known as ACRE from state-level to country-level yields and using money now devoted to crop insurance and direct payments to pay for increased outlays.

University of Tennessee professor Daryll Ray said that the 2012 farm bill should be written with the view that crop prices are likely to fall, and Peterson said he shared that view.

Neil Hamilton of Drake University disputed recent criticism of the Obama administration’s “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” program as aimed at hobby farmers and affluent consumers. Hamilton called for continuation of the program, saying it helped create farmers markets where millions of Americans can exercise their preference to buy fresh food from local farmers whose earnings stay in the community.

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