Sunday, April 20, 2014

Dear Food

This short video makes an excellent point, and it makes me even more proud that we have embarked on our Food Recovery Project. For food recovery resources, visit the Food Recovery Project blog or our Food Recovery Project website.

General Mills: We've Listened

Yesterday, General Mills posted an announcement on their website by Kirstie Foster, titled, We’ve Listened – and We’re Changing Our Legal Terms Back.  

Bill Marler blogged about it on Food Safety News with his Publisher’s Platform article, I’m having Cheerios for Breakfast; General Mills Decides to Focus on Food Safety Instead of Litigation.

General Mills had initially announced new legal terms that attempted to force consumers with any type of complaint into commercial arbitration. Consumers would have legally agreed to this limitation on their basic rights to go to court simply by accepting an online coupon from the General Mills website.

The new policy was first reported in the New York Times article, When ‘Liking’ a Brand Online Voids the Right to Sue by Stephanie Strom.  It was picked up by several other media outlets, Bill Marler blogged about it on Food Safety News, General Mills: You Can't Sue Me!, and we posted about it on Agricultural Law,  General Mills: Brilliant Legal Maneuver of the Worst Public Relations Move Ever.

The new policy was short lived.  The consumer backlash and the negative publicity made General Mills reconsider the wisdom of this approach, and as noted by Ms Foster, they rescinded the policy. Saving face, they referred to those who "misread" the policy and misunderstood their attempts to "streamline" the process of resolving complaints.  That said, it was pretty clearly a policy intended to limit the rights of consumers to sue General Mills in court, forcing them into the much more restrictive and industry-friendly commercial arbitration.

I am not a fan of frivolous lawsuits, and I personally think that judges should be more active in dismissing them. But, there is a lot of room to debate frivolity. With an FDA that is overburdened and underfunded, there is often no one "minding the store" on labeling issues. Without the threat of court action, there would be even less incentive for manufacturers to be upfront with their use of claims and promises.

For example, the FDA has consistently refused to define the term "natural" even though it is one that consumers often have relied on in making their purchasing decisions. And, sometimes, those consumers have been shocked to find out what ingredients were used in products labeled as "natural."

Moreover, on its face, the mandatory arbitration clause applied to all manner of claims, "contract, tort, statute, fraud, misrepresentation, or any other legal theory." This would have forced serious food borne illness and even wrongful death claims out of court and into binding arbitration.

As a law professor, I usually view things from the perspective of how we can teach our students to be better lawyers. It seems that this incident may be a great example to use in the classroom.

Being a smart lawyer can be different than being a good lawyer.  It appears that the smart lawyers representing General Mills could have stepped back from their legal analysis to do some practical analysis.  How are our customers going to react to this?  What does this action do to the trust that we have worked so hard to build up? Do we accomplish our legal goal at the expense of our public image? And, finally, is it right to trick our customers into agreeing to something that they do not understand? As Bill Marler noted, they would be better served to put their efforts into making good, honest, healthy and safe products.

Congratulations to General Mills for having the wisdom to call this policy back before any more damage was done to its reputation.  I'll have a bowl of Cheerios as well.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

General Mills: Brilliant Legal Maneuver, or the Worst Public Relations Move Ever

In recent years, there has been a flurry of legislative efforts to protect the image of farm and food products. For example, "ag gag" statutes provide a form of heightened legal protection from potential lawsuits. 

General Mills has taken a different route. It has developed an innovative self-help strategy to lure its customers into signing away any right to sue them.  And, it is causing a stir across the internet.

As explained in the New York Times, April 16, 2014 -  When ‘Liking’ a Brand Online Voids the Right to Sue by Stephanie Strom -  
Might downloading a 50-cent coupon for Cheerios cost you legal rights? 
General Mills, the maker of cereals like Cheerios and Chex as well as brands like Bisquick and Betty Crocker, has quietly added language to its website to alert consumers that they give up their right to sue the company if they download coupons, “join” it in online communities like Facebook, enter a company-sponsored sweepstakes or contest or interact with it in a variety of other ways. 
Instead, anyone who has received anything that could be construed as a benefit and who then has a dispute with the company over its products will have to use informal negotiation via email or go through arbitration to seek relief, according to the new terms posted on its site.
In language added on Tuesday after The New York Times contacted it about the changes, General Mills seemed to go even further, suggesting that buying its products would bind consumers to those terms. 
“We’ve updated our privacy policy,” the company wrote in a thin, gray bar across the top of its home page. “Please note we also have new legal terms which require all disputes related to the purchase or use of any General Mills product or service to be resolved through binding arbitration.” 

The General Mills website, with the described language at the top,  is pictured above, and a hotlink is provided for a larger image of the language on the actual website.

University of Arkansas School of Law Professor Christopher Kelley had this response:

Dear General Mills,

I, as a person born in 1947, write to terminate any and all agreements, express or implied, between us save for our agreement set forth in the following paragraph:
We agree that if you use of any information about my consumer purchase preferences, however expressed, including aggregated information about the consumer purchase preferences of persons born in 1947 in which information about my consumer purchase preferences might be included, you will waive any and all claims and defenses, legal and equitable, in any dispute between us until this agreement is terminated by either you or me. You may terminate this agreement at any time by notifying me that you have permanently ceased to use any information about my consumer purchase preferences, however expressed, including aggregated information about the consumer purchase preferences of persons born in 1947 in which information about my consumer purchase preferences might be included. 
To allay any concerns that you might have about this agreement being inimical to your financial interests, I will use my best efforts to avoid any dispute between us by not knowingly purchasing your products.

My regards,


Monday, April 07, 2014

"From the Land of Sky Blue Waters"

I will be curious to hear how many people make a connection with the subject of this post. It was the marketing phrase and song for Minnesota-based Hamms Beer, a classic cheap light beer made by a Minnesota company that was acquired by a string of other companies, with the St. Paul brewery put out of business years ago. 

How does this relate to Agricultural Law?   I was delighted to read what has recently happened to the old Hamms Brewery building in St. Paul.

Here's an excerpt from a fascinating article in the St. Paul Pioneer Press and a link to the full story.  It's a story of urban agriculture, urban renewal, sustainability and organic farming, "from the land of sky blue waters."

The same “sky blue waters” that were used to brew Hamm’s beer for more than 100 years now provide a home for thousands of tilapia and sustenance for racks of leafy green vegetables.  
Urban Organics, an aquaponics farm, operates in the six-story stockhouse building of the former Hamm’s brewery complex in east St. Paul.  
Aquaponics is a method of raising fish and vegetables symbiotically. The nutrient-rich wastewater from the fish tanks is used to grow the vegetables hydroponically —“planting” them in water instead of dirt -- and the vegetables purify the water, which is recycled into the fish tanks.  
The company’s vegetables already are available in a handful of Lunds and Byerly’s stores, and the fish may soon be available at local restaurants.  
Urban Organics’ co-founders — Fred Haberman, Chris Ames, Dave Haider and Kristen Haider — were drawn to the location for the same reason Hamm’s was: its water.  
The naturally occurring wells at the site provide their operation with a free source of water, the essential ingredient in aquaponics. And most of the water is recycled. 
The full article provides more details -  At Former Hamms Site, Its the Water - for fish and veggies,  by Nick Woltman, Saint Paul Pioneer Press.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Are You Doing Your Share?

I was simply delighted to find the National Agricultural Library (NAL) collection of War-era Food Posters available online. The physical collection was on display a couple years ago. Beans Were Bullets was an exhibit that "examined the evolution of poster styles, propaganda messages, and advertising history" from the World War I and II periods.

On the website, NAL has the posters divided chronologically and based on the theme of the period, with a helpful Introduction provided.
"Wartime posters in this collection conveyed messages about the vital need for food conservation, rationed goods, meatless and wheatless days, home gardening and canning. 
For farmers, who performed a distinct role on the homefront, posters called attention to the need for increased agricultural output and proper storage methods of surplus grain. Posters also instructed farmers to grow crops in their specific regions to best serve a nation at war.
In addition to these wartime subjects, many of the posters presage food-focused conversations taking place in our culture today. Posters created nearly a century ago suggested food's global significance, recommended eating locally and encouraged personally responsible consumption."
The sections, with direct links are as follows. Each section has a written analysis and a link to the posters.

Whether for historical purposes, for humor, or to further the call to revisit a more local food culture, I encourage all to visit this collection. NAL performs a great service in cataloguing, protecting, and preserving our food and agricultural heritage.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Kara Newman, The Secret Financial Life of Food

Agricultural Law is pleased to have received a copy of Kara Newman, The Secret Financial Life of Food: From Commodities Markets to Supermarkets. Columbia University Press describes this breezy, nifty volume in these terms:

The Secret Financial Life of FoodOne morning while reading Barron's, Kara Newman took note of a casual bit of advice offered by famed commodities trader Jim Rogers. "Buy breakfast," he told investors, referring to the increasing value of pork belly and frozen orange juice futures. The statement inspired Newman to take a closer look at agricultural commodities, from the iconic pork belly to the obscure peppercorn and nutmeg. The results of her investigation, recorded in this fascinating history, show how contracts listed on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange can read like a menu and how market behavior can dictate global economic and culinary practice.

The Secret Financial Life of Food reveals the economic pathways that connect food to consumer, unlocking the mysteries behind culinary trends, grocery pricing, and restaurant dining. Newman travels back to the markets of ancient Rome and medieval Europe, where vendors first distinguished between "spot sales" and "sales for delivery." She retraces the storied spice routes of Asia and recounts the spice craze that prompted Christopher Columbus's journey to North America, linking these developments to modern-day India's bustling peppercorn market.

Newman centers her history on the transformation of corn into a ubiquitous commodity and uses oats, wheat, and rye to recast America's westward expansion and the Industrial Revolution. She discusses the effects of such mega-corporations as Starbucks and McDonalds on futures markets and considers burgeoning markets, particularly "super soybeans," which could scramble the landscape of food finance. The ingredients of American power and culture, and the making of the modern world, can be found in the history of food commodities exchange, and Newman connects this unconventional story to the how and why of what we eat.

The story of food, as with so many other things, is the story of its financial origins and the profit-making motivations of the people who supply it. To learn about lunch, you must follow the money.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

An Agricultural Law Jeremiad: The Harvest Is Past, the Summer Is Ended, and Seed Is Not Saved

James Ming Chen, An Agricultural Law Jeremiad: The Harvest Is Past, the Summer Is Ended, and Seed Is Not Saved, 2014 Wisconsin Law Review (forthcoming), available at or

SoybeansThe saving of seed exerts a powerful rhetorical grip on American agricultural law and policy. Simply put, farmers want to save seed. Many farmers, and many of their advocates, believe that saving seed is essential to farming. But it is not. Farmers today often buy seed, just as they buy other agricultural inputs. That way lies the path of economic and technological evolution in agriculture. Seed-saving advocates protest that compelling farmers to buy seed every season effectively subjects them to a form of serfdom. So be it. Intellectual property law concerns the progress of science and the useful arts. Collateral economic and social damage, in the form of affronts to the agrarian ego, is of no valid legal concern. The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and seed is not saved.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Rurality as a Dimension of Environmental Justice: Call for Papers

2014 Rural Sociological Society Annual Conference: “Equity, Democracy, and the Commons: Counter-Narratives for Rural Transformation.”

Location: New Orleans, Roosevelt Waldorf Astoria Hotel

Date: July 30th to August 3, 2014

Paper Abstracts due: March 3

Submission: Email abstracts (up to 350-words) to Loka Ashwood ( and Kate Mactavish ( in lieu of an online submission.

Changing community and production dynamics in rural America make it a state-sanctioned site for some of the most hazardous and toxic industries of our time.  From its production treadmill, industrial agriculture has cast onto rural America a plethora of negative externalities:  mounting levels of air and water pollution, farm consolidation, and depopulation.   A range of extraction and other risky industries justify the siting of facilities in rural areas because of easy access to ample natural resources, sparse populations that reduce exposure risk, and the possibility of economic revitalization.  State and federal statutes (e.g., right-to-farm laws, the Federal Code of Regulations for Nuclear Operations) often permit these industries to target rural America based on past practice and low population levels.  

On an international level, cities serve as powerful hubs for the global economy, pulling resources away from less prominent urban and rural areas. The growing periphery within core countries, as well as continued resource extraction of rural places abroad, calls for increased attention to the rural facets of injustice in developed and developing countries.

We invite paper submissions that explore facets of rurality that help explain rural places’ vulnerability to environmental injustices from interdisciplinary perspectives, including (but not limited to) sociology, geography, law, anthropology, public health, and the environmental sciences. We are especially keen to receive papers from scholars working broadly on issues of environmental justice in order to foster conversation between those scholars and scholars whose focus is on rurality more generally.

Select papers from the proceedings and a wider call will be reviewed for potential publication in a special issue being considered by the Journal of Rural Studies.

Confirmed Panelist: Steve Wing, Associate Professor of Epidemiology, University of
North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

Cross-posted to Legal Ruralism.  

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Sunday, January 26, 2014

Food Waste: Important Issue Gets Attention

Last year, the LL.M. Program in Agricultural & Food Law at the University of Arkansas School of Law began the  Food Recovery Project.  The goal of this Project is to raise awareness of two fundamentally irreconcilable problems: the overwhelming waste of food and the persistent problem of hunger in America. The project is designed to provide resources, legal information, and other information that will encourage and support businesses in developing and implementing food recovery programs.

This Project was funded by generous support from The Women’s Giving Circle.  Research Fellow,  James Haley  began the Project by doing a comprehensive study of food recovery and the law and prepared A Legal Guide to The Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act.  This article, written for attorneys, is published in the University of Arkansas School of Law's online journal, Law Notes.

Visiting Professor Nicole Civita then produced a guide that explains the legal liability protections available to those who donate their food to a non-profit organization.  Food Recovery: A Legal Guide is designed for businesses and organizations.  Both publications are available for free download.

Through the Food Recovery Project, our awareness of food waste and its consequences has been heightened.  We have been gratified to see the issue gaining increasing recognition in the media. It's important no only because of hunger issues, but because of environmental concerns. The USDA and EPA, issuing a joint Food Waste Challenge, report that "Food waste [is] the single largest type of waste entering our landfills" with about 40% of food in the U.S. wasted.

Other groups are also publicizing the problem.
  • The Food Recovery Network unites students at colleges and universities to find ways to prevent food waste in their communities and to recover food for those in need.
The PBS Newshour television broadcast just released the video embedded below, Start-ups, Organizations Take on America's Food Waste Challenge.  It discusses the food waste problem from an environmental perspective and from an economic perspective.  It's an excellent report that emphasizes the opportunities to reduce waste and the economic advantages of doing so.  I recommend it to all -

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Report from the AALS Agricultural & Food Law Session, New York

Melissa Mortazavi, Visiting Assistant Professor of Law at Brooklyn Law School kindly agreed to serve as reporter for the educational session of the Agricultural & Food Law Section of the Association of American Law Schools (AALA) Annual Meeting in New York City, January 2-5.  This post is based substantially on her report republished from the Food Law Professors blog.

We had excellent attendance at the section session, despite extremely difficult weather conditions. The panel spoke on teaching food law & policy and integrating food law into law schools' curricula.

Unfortunately, section chair and panel organized, Professor Neil Hamilton, the Dwight D. Opperman Chair of Law and the Director of the Agricultural Law Center at Drake University Law School and panel member Professor Jay Mitchell, the Director of the Organizations and Transactions Clinic at Stanford Law School were both unable to attend due to the weather conditions.

Panel members who presented were Susan A. Schneider (Director, LL.M. Program in Agricultural & Food Law, University of Arkansas School of Law), Michael Roberts (Executive Director, Resnick Program for Food Law and Policy, UCLA School of Law), and Alli Condra (Fellow, Food Law and Policy Clinic, Harvard Law School).

Initially, the discussion focused on how each of these programs approaches teaching food law and policy, predominately with a focus on connecting laws governing food production with sustainability and public health concerns. Also flagged was the need for more intensive scholarly work regarding the legal framework of food regulation domestically, the racial and socio-economic impacts of food law, and the implications of food and food systems in the context of laws regulating international trade and export.

One consistent thread emerged: food is everything-- meaning every kind of law, in all types of practice-- and the opportunities to explore food law and policy in the law school setting are varied and compelling. Some schools have taken on helping small food related business through providing practical how-to publications or support through their transactional legal services clinics. Some professors teach food law through courses like administrative law where they draw heavily on food related case law and regulations. Others are engaging with international food law through direct services; at Wake Forest, Barbara Lentz led a team of students this month to Nicaragua to help local farmers meet certification requirements for U.S. food imports.

In addition to a lively and energizing discussion, a few follow up points emerged:

Call for Syllabi:

In the Q & A session there was a request to share information and syllabi. Susan Schneider administers a Food Law Professors listserv and the Food Law Professors blog. Professors who teach a food law course, whether survey, seminar, traditional course with a focus on food law, are asked to either post a link to their syllabus or submit it to Professor Schneider for posting.  Similarly, if you are involved in teaching or scholarship in the area of food law & policy and would like to join the listserv, please email Professor Schneider to join.

Upcoming Conferences:  

UCLA’s Resnick Program for Food Law and Policy will be hosting a Food Law Litigation Symposium this April, with dates to TBD.  The Resnick Program also plans to host a larger scale conference on food law in the fall of 2014.  We will keep in touch with Professor Roberts and post updated announcements.

New Association: 

Law professors are in the early stages of forming a Food Law and Policy Association for those who teach and write in this area. This idea was discussed at the Yale Food Policy Symposium, with Emily Broad Lieb, Baylen Linnekin, Margaret Sova McCabe, and Laurie Ristino along with panel members Michael Roberts and Susan Schneider.  Melissa Mortazavi has agreed to assist in collecting names of those interested.   If you are interested in being a founding member, please email

Saturday, December 07, 2013

The Debate Over the King Amendment Grows

The Protect Interstate Commerce Act,  a Farm Bill amendment more commonly known as the "King Amendment" because of its author, Representative Steve King from Iowa, continues to generate controversy.

The King amendment would prevent states from imposing standards on products brought in from other states. It was written to prevent state-enacted humane standards for raising livestock, such as the California law that regulates the size of chicken cages in egg factories. According to the Iowa Egg Council, Iowa leads the nation in egg production, with nearly 60 million laying hens producing nearly 15 billion eggs per year.

Alice Daniel/KQED
The King Amendment has fueled fierce opposition from animal welfare proponents. In addition, however, it is also opposed by those who favor state and local control and who resent any federal preemption of the right of states to legislate.  See, letter from fifteen Republican Congressmen opposing the King Amendment (July 2013) on both counts.

Nevertheless, some in the House, supported by groups representing large-scale animal production continue to push for the amendment. And recently, two top Iowa state officials wrote to Iowa Senator Tom Harkin asking him to support the provision, claiming it was needed in order to protect Iowa's egg industry.

Opponents are pushing back.

Politico reported that Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), one of 41 farm bill conferees, warned that inclusion of the amendment in a farm bill would be a "deal breaker" that forced Democrats to vote against the overall farm bill.

Lauren Bernadett, a California attorney and a candidate in the LL.M. Program in Agricultural & Food Law published an excellent editorial on the amendment and its potential consequences in Food Safety News on November 19, 2013.  Her article, Proposed King Amendment Threatens Broad Spectrum of Food Issues raises concerns about the impact of the amendment on a wide range of popular state statutes that apply not only in the context of animal welfare but, food safety and health. She notes that "[t]he practical effects of the King Amendment, if included in the final Farm Bill, would be so far-reaching that it has won the attention of animal-welfare groups, consumer and public-health groups, organic associations, environmental groups, and GMO-labeling advocates."

Most recently, Taimie Bryant, a law professor at UCLA School of Law sent a letter opposing the amendment on behalf of fourteen law professors across the United States. The letter was sent to farm bill conference committee leaders, Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), and Representatives Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) and Collin Peterson (D-Minn.).  It provides a thoughtful analysis of the wide-ranging and unintended negative consequences of the broadly written amendment. They argue persuasively that the amendment would apply to a host of health and safety related provisions and essentially tie the hands of state officials who seek to exert influence over food and agricultural products within the state.

The majority of American consumers would like to see common-sense and reasonable animal welfare standards incorporated into livestock production. When livestock is produced outside of such standards, as unfortunately has been the case in a variety of contexts, it leads to citizen action, state initiatives, and legislation. While some in the animal industry blame animal welfare organizations, the fault is most often their own. The conditions within egg factories are the genesis for laws that require additional welfare standards for laying hens.

It would be far more productive for the industry in the long run to work with consumers and with animal welfare advocates to develop reasonable protections for the animals under their care -  to step back from some of the most egregious practices -  rather than lobbying for protective legislation that would preempt all manner of state control.  Many California farmers, even those who initially fought the California law, have discovered that the new standards work well for them, and the hens (and their operations) are doing better.  They oppose the King Amendment as well.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Finally, some law and rural sociology/ag scholarship

For the six years I've attended the Rural Sociological Society's (RSS) Annual Meeting, I've been pressing for the production of more scholarship at the intersection of law and rural livelihoods--and specifically for more attention among rural sociologists to the role of law in the phenomena they study.  So, imagine my delight when I learned at the RSS meeting in August, 2013, of an article forthcoming in Rural Sociology titled, "Where's the Farmer?  Limiting Liability in Midwestern Industrial Hog Production."
Scholars largely assume that hog production is following the same industrialization process as the integrated poultry industry. Since the collapse of hog farming in the 1990s, academics have anticipated that producers will eventually become trapped in contracts that leave the integrator with full control over the production process. Embedded in this prediction is an assumption that hog farmers respond to these productive pressures individually. Our analysis of the Carthage Management System suggests a different path for the hog commodity chain. The Carthage Management System is a conglomeration of business management firms that bring finishing hog farmers together to form limited liability corporations (LLCs) in the breed-to-wean stage of hog production. We use a sociology of agrifood framework to suggest that the nuances of hog production encourage the use of what we call folding corporations to limit liability in ways that profoundly transform the family farm. Corporations and individual hog farmers alike employ this creative LLC structure to deflect responsibility for the risks of hog production. We identify how folding corporations externalize the costs of production onto rural communities. Additional research is needed to better understand unfolding farmer identities, legal protections for farmers, how widespread organizational structures like Carthage Management System are, and their consequences for rural communities and the industrialization process.
The paper's authors are Loka Ashwood, a PhD candidate at the University of Wisconsin in the Dept. of Community and Environmental Sociology, and Danielle Diamond and Kendall Thu, both of the anthropology department at Northern Illinois University.  I was fortunate enough at RSS 2013 to moderate a panel on which Ashwood presented her paper on "The Moral Economy of Land Loss," and I'm excited by the prospect of future work from a rural sociologist expanding the discipline in exciting cross-disciplinary ways, including by engaging law and legal processes.

Cross-posted to Legal Ruralism.  

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Monday, October 14, 2013

Food Sovereignty and Native American Food Systems

While the local food movement is well recognized in the media and popular culture, a local food/food sovereignty movement has been gaining strength among native tribes in the U.S. without gaining much outside attention.  That is changing.

Pati Martinson and Terrie Bad Hand, Directors of the Taos County Development Corp. (TCEDC) have been working toward a Native American Food Alliance since 2008. That alliance is now a reality. The first meeting was held at the recent First Nations LEAD conference at Mystic Lake Casino and Hotel, Prior Lake, Minnesota. The following Call to Action was adopted.

Native American Food Sovereignty Alliance 
Call to Action 
Restoring Native food systems is an immediate and fundamental need for the continued survival and physical and spiritual wellbeing of Native peoples and our Mother Earth – now and into the future. The costs of doing nothing – and the potential benefits of action – are massive. The Native American Food Sovereignty Alliance (NAFSA) is dedicated to restoring the Indigenous food systems that support Indigenous self-determination, wellness, cultures, values, communities, economies, languages, families, and rebuild relationships with the land, water, plants and animals that sustain us. NAFSA brings people, communities (rural, remote and urban), organizations and Tribal governments together to share, promote and support best practices and policies that enhance dynamic Native food systems that promote holistic wellness, sustainable economic development, education, reestablished trade routes, stewardship of land and water resources, peer-to-peer mentoring, and multigenerational empowerment. NAFSA works to put the farmers, wildcrafters, fishers, hunters, ranchers and eaters at the center of decision-making on policies, strategies and natural resource management. We commit to take collective and individual action to address food sovereignty, and to build the necessary understanding and awareness among our Peoples, Nations, leaders and policy-makers, as well as our youth and coming generations, to make it a continuing reality.
The issue of Food Sovereignty from a tribal perspective was recently the subject of an interview with A'dae Romero (Cochiti Pueblo/Kiowa) on the radio show, What's for Dinner with Susan Youmnas.  A'dae is currently a candidate in the LL.M. Program in Agricultural & Food Law at the University of Arkansas School of Law. She works with the Indigenous Food & Agriculture Initiative at the Law School under the guidance of Janie Hipp (Chickasaw), the former Senior Advisor for Tribal Relations to USDA Secretary Vilsack, and now the Director of the Initiative. A'dae founded and serves as the Executive Director of Cochiti Youth Experience, Inc., a non-profit organization formed to create opportunities for Cochiti youth to engage in traditional Pueblo farming as a means to create a healthy, sustainable, and viable community.

Food, agriculture and the issue of food sovereignty represent rising movements in Indian Country. Stay tuned -

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Harsh Reality: The Impact of the Government Shutdown on Food Assistance

Last week, in the LL.M. Program in Agricultural & Food Law, we received a request for information about the impact of the government shutdown on women and children who rely on food assistance.  I asked Erin Shirl, an attorney in our Program, to reply.  The information that she reported was so important and so well researched, that I asked her to prepare it for Agricultural Law.  Erin's report follows, and her bio and contact information can be found at the conclusion of this post. 

Approximately 49 million Americans struggle with food insecurity. The most recently released USDA statistics place 7 million Americans in the "very low food security" tier; this means that "at times during the year, the food intake of household members was reduced and their normal eating patterns were disrupted because the household lacked money and other resources for food." A frightening ninety-nine percent of those 7 million Americans reported that they worried food would be gone before they had money to buy more, even though many food insecure Americans participate in one or more federal food assistance programs, like SNAP, WIC, or the school lunch programs.

In the wake of our federal government's shutdown crisis, those 7 million Americans will have a more difficult time obtaining food, a problem USDA and the states are almost powerless to solve. Though national media outlets have attempted to profile this problem since the shutdown began, many news sources have frequently left out an important piece of the food assistance puzzle, federal Commodity Assistance Programs, which will lack funding entirely until the federal government finally resumes normal operations. This post attempts to fill that void by profiling some of the key food assistance programs jeopardized by the shutdown, briefly touching on the interplay between them, and explaining how and why they matter to their participants.

Commodity Assistance Programs (CAP)

Media coverage immediately after the shutdown focused on the potential loss of WIC funding while the federal government is out of business. WIC is undeniably a vital program for the 9 million food insecure Americans who depend on it.
Government Shutdown: 9 Million Moms and Babies at Risk (Forbes)
Government Shutdown Jeopardizes WIC Program (Huffington Post)
Shutdown threatens nutrition for mothers, children (CNN Money)
Poor moms fear loss of subsidized infant formula if government shutdown drags on (Washington Post)
WIC support for moms and babies threatened during shutdown (CBS News)

However, the Commodity Assistance Programs have been largely left out of the discussion in major media outlets. This is an unfortunate oversight: these programs and their participants are in a much more immediately dire situation.

Where WIC and SNAP provide food insecure Americans with checks, vouchers, or EBT cards to be used for the purchase of food, the programs that fall into the CAP category instead provide assistance more directly in the form of food packages. For Americans who live in remote or rural areas where SNAP and WIC vendors may not be available, the CAPs may be only source of food assistance from the government. These programs have been increasingly crucial in feeding Americans since the recession began. They have helped private and non-profit food banks restore dwindling food stocks, and they are instrumental in providing food aid to food insecure Americans.  Commodity Assistance Programs are all entirely without funding in the wake of the shutdown.

USDA's contingency plan for the shutdown expressly states, "[w]hile there would be some inventory
available for use in food packages, no carryover, contingency or other funds would be available to support continued operations."

The following summary profiles three critical programs impacted by the shutdown.

The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) provides non-perishable food to all fifty states based on each state's levels of low-income and unemployed citizens. In FY 2012, this program delivered 723 million pounds of food to the states to support hungry Americans. USDA, through Congressional appropriation, pays for all major costs associated with the program, including the processing, packing, and shipping of food to states. USDA also pays for some administrative costs.
USDA currently has no funds available to support any of those activities.  While the government's doors remain closed, there will be no more deliveries of food to states from TEFAP. What food remains in state inventories may be used in the interim, but for the many smaller food banks that rely heavily or exclusively on TEFAP products to feed their community members, a lengthy shutdown could mean closing their doors or delivering less food to their communities.

The largest feeding charity in America, Feeding America, supplies food to just under 80% of the country's food banks; TEFAP food went to 54% of Feeding America food banks in 2009. If TEFAP is not operational, this will put a strain on charitable organizations, and in turn, on hungry Americans.

Note that TEFAP-partnered food banks can help serve food insecure Americans who live in food deserts and cannot access vendors that might serve SNAP or WIC participants; USDA data suggest approximately one-fifth of TEFAP participants do not rely on any other federal food assistance program, and are more likely to live in very low food security in addition to confronting other problems of poverty, including homelessness and other material hardship. For the remaining four-fifths of TEFAP participants, TEFAP remains a vital source of food to supplement their diets when SNAP or WIC funds do not last through the month. However, without a supply of food from the federal government, it will become difficult, if not completely impossible, for local food banks to keep up. It is crucial that funding for this program be restored.

The Commodity Supplemental Food Program  (CSFP) serves new and soon-to-be mothers, children under the age of five, and Americans over the age of sixty. Much like TEFAP, it provides USDA food to qualifying participants by delivering food to state agencies, who distribute it on the local level through public and private organizations. Unfortunately, also like TEFAP, this program is currently without funding. Food resources available will be limited to what is currently in inventory at food banks. Some states may be able to find funding to run this program in the interim, but the shutdown has put a lot of pressure on states to find room in their budgets to accommodate multiple unfunded programs. States will simply not be able to fund every program without renewed federal assistance, and food insecure Americans, like the people served by CFSP, will suffer the consequences.

Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR) provides food to low-income households, either on-reservation or to certain American Indian households off-reservation, depending on location. Participants cannot receive food from FDPIR if they participate in SNAP in the same month.  Many participants in FDPIR choose this program over SNAP because they live in remote areas where SNAP vendors (i.e., grocery stores) either do not exist or are not accessible.

Two-hundred and seventy-six (276) of the 566 federally recognized tribes in the United States participate in FDPIR. In FY 2012, USDA reported that 76,530 participated on average monthly in FDPIR. Without funding for FDPIR, these participants do not have access to this source of food. In some situations, especially for participants who live in very remote areas where the only sources of food are government-operated, it is likely that they do not have access to any reliable source of food without this program.

These programs, and more importantly the lives of the hungry Americans who depend upon them, will remain in jeopardy until the federal government resumes normal operations.

Even when the shutdown ends, there may yet be cause for concern: Congress has repeatedly battled over funding for food assistance programs over the last two years, and that includes cutting the money provided for these programs. This will have devastating effects on Americans at the lowest levels of food security.

With SNAP benefits set to decrease in November (discussed below), CAPs may be put under even more strain as SNAP beneficiaries look for ways to supplement their already inadequate food supplies.

Women, Infants, & Children (WIC)

WIC serves 9 million American women, infants, and children. WIC participation has been associated with a variety of positive outcomes, including but not limited to: improving both the mental and physical health of participants, increasing the likelihood that children will receive vaccinations, decreasing instances of child abuse and neglect, reducing anemia, improving overall diets, and encouraging pregnant women to stop smoking.

When the shutdown went into effect on 1 October, various national news sources reported that WIC was not likely to last more than a few weeks, or even days. Those reports, based on USDA's initial speculation, understandably caused panic and outrage.  Fortunately, thanks to contingency funds, Secretary Vilsack and USDA have ensured that states can continue to support current WIC participants and pay WIC vendors through the end of October. USDA has authorized the use of contingency and carryover funds to keep this program running in all fifty states until the end of this month.

This does not mean WIC participants have been unaffected by the shutdown, especially those who live in states whose offices closed their doors before USDA issued the notice about contingency funds, or those who WIC vendors turned away post-shutdown because they assumed they would not be reimbursed.

Most recently, North Carolina announced that it does not have the funds to issue any further WIC vouchers for the month of October, leaving an estimated 20% of North Carolina WIC participants without their vouchers in the absence of renewed federal funding.

On 4 October, shortly before adjourning for the weekend, the House passed legislation, H.J. Res. 75  that would fund WIC through FY 2014. It has been placed on the Senate's calendar, where it is likely to remain until its eventual demise; both the Senate and the President have been unwilling to consider similar piecemeal legislation thus far.   The National WIC Association, a non-profit policy group that advocates for WIC participants, also opposes this legislation. The bill will either fail or remain dormant in the Senate. Even if H.J. Res. 75 somehow did become law, it would still only appropriate funds for WIC through 15 December, a week before Congress typically adjourns for winter holidays. This would potentially set us up for another WIC-related showdown, but this time during the winter holiday season, when food banks typically experience increased demand.

The WIC Farmers' Market Nutrition Program (FMNP) , which is run alongside the overall WIC program, provides a source of fresh fruit and vegetables, all from local growers, to WIC participants. It also provides food to those on a waiting list to receive WIC benefits.

According to a 2010 GAO Report, 46 state agencies participate in this program, which serves 2.2 million women, infants, and children. Although WIC will remain operational until the end of the month, the WIC FMNP has no funding presently, depriving participants of this source of healthy, fresh fruits and vegetables.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

SNAP, previously known as “Food Stamps,” is the most crucial of all federal domestic food assistance programs. Not only does it feed more Americans than any other federal program-- 42% of food insecure households in FY 2012 participated in SNAP-- but programs associated with SNAP also provide other benefits, like job training, to program participants. SNAP is an appropriated entitlement program. This means that although it falls into the category of mandatory Congressional spending, annual appropriations must fund it.

The USDA is currently relying on a broad interpretation of the Recovery Act to help states fund SNAP through October. The Recovery Act, Sec. 101 (f) authorizes USDA to spend “such sums as are necessary” to administer the act's temporary increase in benefits to SNAP participants; using this language, USDA's contingency shutdown plan authorizes continued payments.

SNAP funding increased during the recession when Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, and as noted, USDA is keeping SNAP running through October because of that law.

After October, whether the shutdown is over or not, SNAP's status becomes more tenuous, thanks to the passage of P.L. 111-296 which accelerated the timeline for the end of Recovery Act funds. Even if the shutdown ends by 1 November, SNAP recipients will still see an automatic cut in their benefits as a result of this expiration. The average daily allowance for SNAP benefits in 2010 was $4.30/person per day which is already a bare bones allowance. SNAP benefits do not usually last for an entire month even at present levels , and cutting funding will only hurt food insecure Americans and increase reliance on other programs.

According to USDA's shutdown plan, contingency funding in the amount of $2 billion total will be available to help states with administering SNAP after October. However, that is a fraction of the cost per month of administering the program: the state of Texas alone delivered $6 billion in benefits to its citizens  in 2012. Spreading $2 billion across the entire country simply will not be possible.

SNAP’s satellite programs, like SNAP Employment & Training, are already imperiled due to the shutdown. The operational ability of this arm of SNAP during the shutdown depends entirely upon each individual state's budgetary constraints. In states that have not waived SNAP's job program requirement, this could have disastrous consequences for participants who are complying with the letter of the law: they could lose their ability to obtain food through SNAP. If that happens, where will they turn? Again, food banks and shelters would seem a logical alternative, once more placing an enhanced burden on charities, many of which are likely aided in their hunger relief efforts by presently defunct commodities programs like TEFAP.


Our food assistance programs and the participants that depend upon them are highly interconnected. A change in one program will necessarily affect another, and will have consequences for 17.6 million food insecure American households. USDA data from 2008 showed that of low-income households with low or very low food security, 12% participated in both SNAP and WIC in order to feed their families. Recent data from 2012 shows that 51.8% of SNAP participants are food insecure, and 39.5% of WIC recipients are food insecure. Even with fully operational food assistance programs, these families are struggling.

With a reduction in SNAP benefits looming in November and WIC's operational status in question after October if the shutdown continues, those families will need alternative sources of food, potentially putting more pressure on already strapped food banks. Private charitable feeding operations-- to the extent that they are truly private and do not receive food products from federal programs like TEFAP-- lack the infrastructure to fill the gap and feed food insecure Americans while the government idles.

Without the federal government's renewed support, millions of Americans will see a reduction in food availability. This has consequences for these Americans that extend beyond the physical: food insecurity takes a psychological toll on those who experience it, and every day that the shutdown continues is another day in which we ask 7 million Americans to live suffer the fear and anxiety that accompanies unreliable access to a basic necessity for life.

This presents a compelling argument for the federal government to resume operations as soon as possible to avoid further disruption to the daily lives of the people who depend on these programs.
Editor's Note: Though USDA materials would have been the most relevant sources for much of the information in this post, they are currently inaccessible online due to the shutdown. Where possible, the author has tried to provide alternate hosts for USDA white papers, statistical data, and critical data unavailable online presently.  This raises another issue -  critical information about food assistance programs for hungry Americans who might be seeking it is often unavailable, as many state websites and other sites such as, often link directly to FNS "for more information."  FNS is unavailable due to the shut down. 
Erin Shirl is a candidate in the LL.M. Program in Agricultural and Food Law at the University of Arkansas School of Law, where she received her J.D. in 2011; she also holds a B.A. (Political Science/ Russian Language) from Ouachita Baptist University, where she graduated magna cum laude as the Outstanding Graduate in Political Science. Erin is presently working on compiling a comprehensive legislative history of major federal food assistance programs in the United States, and is particularly interested in tracking American attitudes about food security over time. Prior to attending the LL.M. Program, Erin served as a Staff Attorney and Research Coordinator for the National Commission on Indian Trust Administration and Reform. She is admitted to practice law in the state of Arkansas.

Erin can be reached at She's on Twitter at @erinshirl.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Environmental Law Opportunity

The University of Arkansas School of Law has an official job notice for a tenure track position that has been circulated.  While the approved notice list a variety of needs, there is strong faculty support for using this position to build our environmental law offerings. Any environmental law attorney or professor that is interested should contact us immediately.

The opportunity for collaboration with the LL.M. Program in Agricultural & Food Law as well as interdisciplinary sustainability initiatives throughout the University of Arkansas campus make this a unique opportunity.

Interested candidates may submit a letter of application and resume, including three professional references, as email attachments to Terri Huckleberry, Assistant to the Dean, at, or through regular mail to the University of Arkansas School of Law, WATR 167, Fayetteville, AR 72701.

Please help us spread the word to colleagues that you know.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

The Frugal Traveler on "The Center Cut": A New Yorker Learns Something about Farming and the Midwest

I have enjoyed immensely following Seth Kugel, the NYT's "Frugal Traveler," the past six weeks as he has made his way through what his summarizing installation calls (in the print edition) America's "Center Cut," from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to western Minnesota.  (I note, by the way, that his journey covers the territory of the federal Eighth Circuit, but with the additions of Kugel's Fifth Circuit kick-off and his brief foray into Kansas).  In his grand wrap up in today's paper, titled (online) "What I Learned Driving Through the Heartland," Kugel's lede has a decidedly agricultural flavor that I cannot resist highlighting here for Ag Law readers:
“The udder on this cow just keeps getting better and better as the day goes on,” remarked Barry Visser, Kandiyohi County Fair dairy cattle judge, over the PA system. A boy led his prizewinning Holstein away as a friendly crowd of western Minnesotans, and one out-of-place New Yorker, looked on from the modest stands. The dairy cow competition was nearing its end; the rabbits, hens and pigs had already had their days of judgment — no udders required — and were unwinding one building down. 
Kugel goes on to explain that, for all his worldliness (here there is shameless place dropping as Kugel establishes his world traveler bonafides by listing the major world regions he has visited), he had a lot to learn about parts of the United States, including how much variety there is from state to state, sometimes even county to county--never mind crossing an international boundary.  Clearly, Kugel's knowledge about farming and farm culture expanded exponentially on this journey.  He writes: 
Vague notions of the region were replaced by what I gleaned from museums and historical markers as well as from residents’ stories of their great-grandparents’ struggles as settlers. The simple question I asked of every farmer I met — How many acres does it take to make a family farm profitable? — launched conversations in which I learned infinitely more than you could by reading articles about farm bills.
* * *

But it was really the county fairs I attended — three in total — that won the Frugal Traveler blue ribbon for favorite activity. I didn’t even know what the 4 H’s in 4-H stood for before this summer (for the record: head, heart, hands, health), let alone that the institution shapes childhoods in much of the country. Later, when I realized that several county fairs are within a two-hour drive of New York City, I felt rather ignorant.
Ignorant, indeed.  Hasn't Kugel been reading his own paper, with its tendency to label "rural" anything north of Westchester?  See examples here and here.  

At a few points, Kugel refers to the people he met and the places he saw as "exotic"--like a small African tribe (the latter are my words, not his).  To observe that this highlights the rural-urban chasm in this country is to state the obvious.  I am also reminded of an interesting cultural studies article I have cited from time to time, Lisa Heldke's "Farming Made Me Stupid."  If Kugel thought that when he started his tour of the Eighth Circuit, he seems to have been disabused of that notion.  Just what I like in a reporter:  an open mind.  

My post about Kugel's visit to my hometown, Jasper, Arkansas--reported at the beginning of August--is here. The pride I felt when I read that story a month ago resurfaced with today's recap, pinpointing on a a map in our nation's premier newspaper of record my little ol' town's position in the universe, along with Kugel's other mostly obscure stops. Too bad the caption in the latter story (print edition) places the "most photographed rock in Arkansas," Hawskbill Crag (a/k/a/ Whitaker Point), in Missouri.  But then, you can only expect so much from a bunch of city slicker cite checkers.  

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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

ACA will raise cost of farm labor--and therefore food

The New York Times reported today about the consequences of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) for the cost of farm labor and, in turn, the cost of food.  Sarah Varney's story is set in California, where farm laborers are typically employed year round rather than seasonally, as the case in many other places.  (Another post about year-round ag workers is here).  This means farm labor contractors cannot easily put the "workers on a 28-hour workweek like Starbucks, Denny's and Walmart are considering" doing to avoid the ACA mandate.  It also means that the contractors, who operate on very small margins--around 2%--will have to raise the prices they charge farms, which will in turn push up food prices.

Varney writes:  
Insurance brokers and health providers familiar with California's $43.5 billion agricultural industry estimate that meeting the law's minimum health plan requirement will cost about $1 per hour employee worked in the field.     
The minimum health plan under the new law will is expected cost about $250 a month in California’s growing regions, a premium which includes a high deductible--$5K a year.  With the following vignette, Varney explains why it is not feasible to pass this insurance costs onto the workers:  
On a recent morning, Jose Romero pulled weeds from a row of lush tomato plants. Mr. Romero, 36, arrived at the field around 5 a.m. and worked until sunset. Like many of the other workers in the tomato field, he was surprised to learn that his employer, Mr. Herrin at Sunrise Farm Labor, would have to offer him health coverage, and that he could be asked to contribute up to 9.5 percent of his wages to cover the costs. 
“We eat, we pay rent and no more,” Mr. Romero said in Spanish. “The salary that they give you here, to pay insurance for the family, it wouldn’t be enough.” 
There seems to be widespread agreement among agricultural employers, insurance brokers and health plans in California that low-wage farmworkers cannot be asked to pay health insurance premiums. 
On this point, Varney quotes a labor contractor, Chuck Herrin, the owner of Sunrise Farm Labor in Huron, California:  
He’s making $8 to $9 an hour, and you’re asking him to pay for something that’s he’s not going to use? 
The most intriguing part of this quote is the "something that he's not going to use" part.  Are Mr. Herrin's assumptions based on perceived cultural issues?  on the age and perceived health of the workers and their families?

Varney also notes the complication that immigration status poses for many of the workers because they may be in the country without papers.  As one farm labor contractor in Napa Valley noted, the workers are 
Nervous they’ll be tracked and then somehow the possibility of being identified, and the fear of being deported or not being allowed to work. It comes up all the time in conversations when we outline the choices.
Cross-posted to Legal Ruralism.

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Thursday, July 25, 2013

Sugar Love: A Not So Sweet Tale

The August issue of National Geographic Magazine has a fascinating article titled, Sugar Love: A Not So Sweet Tale.  It's a fascinating article.
In the beginning, on the island of New Guinea, where sugarcane was domesticated some 10,000 years ago, people picked cane and ate it raw, chewing a stem until the taste hit their tongue like a starburst. A kind of elixir, a cure for every ailment, an answer for every mood, sugar featured prominently in ancient New Guinean myths. In one the first man makes love to a stalk of cane, yielding the human race. At religious ceremonies priests sipped sugar water from coconut shells, a beverage since replaced in sacred ceremonies with cans of Coke.
Our love of sugar is traced back through the centuries, chronicling its rise from a "luxury spice" to a "staple, first for the middle class and then for the poor."  The need for sugar has fueled colonialism, slavery, and widespread environmental devastation.  Yet we always seem to want more.
The more you tasted, the more you wanted. In 1700 the average Englishman consumed 4 pounds a year. In 1800 the common man ate 18 pounds of sugar. In 1870 that same sweet-toothed bloke was eating 47 pounds annually. Was he satisfied? Of course not! By 1900 he was up to 100 pounds a year. In that span of 30 years, world production of cane and beet sugar exploded from 2.8 million tons a year to 13 million plus. Today the average American consumes 77 pounds of added sugar annually, or more than 22 teaspoons of added sugar a day.
The impact of sugar on modern western society is debated, with some expressing concern about "empty calories" and others taking it further.
Americans . . . eat too much and exercise too little because they’re addicted to sugar, which not only makes them fatter but, after the initial sugar rush, also saps their energy, beaching them on the couch. 
As can be expected from National Geographic, the photographs are breathtaking. For anyone interested in food, health, and human motivation, this is great read.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Thoughts on Food Assistance and the Farm Bill Debate

The House of Representative's decision to strip the Nutrition Title from the Farm Bill before passage and the targeting of the food assistance programs for drastic budget cuts prompt me to offer my perspectives.  Much of the discussion has been misleading.

First, clarification of the problem.

“Food security” means “access at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members.”  According to the well-document USDA Economic Research Service Report, Household Food Security in the United States in 2011, almost 15% of Americans were food insecure at some time during 2011, with “5.7 percent with very low food security—meaning that the food intake of one or more household members was reduced and their eating patterns were disrupted at times during the year because the household lacked money and other resources for food.”

In Arkansas, where I live and work, the rate is even higher, with a food insecurity rate of 18.6%.

Even more alarming -  28.6% of Arkansas children are food insecure.

Children, the elderly, the disabled and veterans all make up major categories of food insecure citizens, who rely on our assistance.

Second, an explanation of the Program.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) creates a food safety net for low income individuals and families. Note that it is often referred to by its former name, Food Stamps.

SNAP has been carefully designed to provide efficient and effective assistance to individuals and families in need. When economic conditions decline and unemployment is high, more people need assistance, raising the number of people eligible for SNAP and increasing its cost. When the economy improves, SNAP eligibility is reduced, decreasing its cost.  That is the way it is supposed to work.

The high number of Americans who receive SNAP benefits is not an indication of a problem with the program -  the program is working as it was designed -  it reflects an economy that is still struggling with high unemployment, underemployment, and pervasive poverty.

Third, the facts regarding the implementation of the program - 

Although some House Republicans are adamant that SNAP needs to be reformed and reduced, they failed to schedule any hearings to produce evidence regarding the program.  Had they held hearings, they might have discovered some of the following facts:
  • Forty-seven percent of SNAP beneficiaries are children. Households with children receive 75% of all SNAP benefits.
  • 23 percent of SNAP households include a disabled person and 18% of households include an elderly person.
  • As explained in a recent U.S. News & World Report editorial, the Congressional Budget Office “projects that an improving economy will reduce the share of the population that participates in SNAP to its 2008 level in coming years; accordingly, costs will fall as a share of the economy. That's because most SNAP beneficiaries who can work want to and do work when jobs are available.”
David Brooks, Republican Commentator on the PBS Newshour broadcast reported last week that he had tried to undertake a story on waste and abuse in the SNAP Program but was unable to complete the task. He could not find the waste that he was looking for and concluded that the people who deserved the assistance were the ones getting it. It was a "legitimate use of money."

Fourth, a consideration of the economic effects of the program.

From a broader economic perspective, SNAP is perhaps the most efficient and the least appreciated way to help support and improve local economies.  SNAP benefits are directly transferred to local stores and farmers markets. They represent dollars spent in the local economy.

“An increase of $1 billion in SNAP expenditures is estimated to increase economic activity (GDP) by $1.79 billion. In other words, every $5 in new SNAP benefits generates as much as $9 of economic activity.” See, Kenneth Hanson, The Food Assistance National Input-Output Multiplier (FANIOM) Model and the Stimulus Effects of SNAP.

Some have criticized USDA efforts to increase SNAP participation through educational campaigns - presenting it as though the government was handing out free money to undeserving citizens.  To the contrary, greater participation improves child health and nutrition and improves the lives of those in poverty, including the disabled and the elderly.

And, verified USDA economic data indicates that "[e]very $5 in new food stamp benefits generates almost twice as much ($9.20) in total community spending. If the national participation rate rose just 5 percent, 1.9 million more low-income people would be able to spend an additional $1.3 billion on healthy food. This would generate $2.5 billion in new economic activity nationwide." Just ask the local grocery store -  it's a successful stimulus program.

Finally, comments from our Representatives.

Today Farm Policy reported that Representative Tom Cotton from Dardanelle, Arkansas initially voted against the farm bill in part because the food-stamp cuts did not go deep enough. "The bill was more to Cotton’s liking with the food stamp section stripped out. He voted for it Thursday, explaining that it was no longer held ‘Arkansas farmers hostage to Barack Obama’s wasteful foodstamp program.’"(referencing Alex Daniels report in the July 15 Arkansas Democrat-Gazette)

Representative Collin Peterson from rural-western Minnesota, had a different view. Peterson serves as Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee and is recognized as long-time advocate for farm support.  He stated, “There is less fraud in food stamps than in any government program. There is five times as much fraud in crop insurance than in food stamps.”

Consider as well, the recent article, Fraud Used to Frame Farm Bill Debate.  Farm-state representatives:  Isn't there some adage about glass houses?

Let's have an honest, factual discussion of our farm and food programs and step back from the political rhetoric and class/racial stereotyping that has marred the debate in the House. SNAP works and unfortunately, many in our society are forced to rely on it. We can't let them down.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Planting the Seeds of a Real "Green Revolution"

From Al Jazeera, comes this video on how roughly two million farmers in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh have ditched chemical pesticides in favour of natural repellants and fertilisers, as part of a growing eco-agriculture movement.” This represents, I think, agricultural production (pardon the pun) “on the ground,” in a literal and figurative sense in contrast to hyper-industrialized capitalist agriculture, as an eminently rational process of political economy and ecology (thus, political ecology) beyond the impoverished assumptions of Malthusian Social Darwinism, the political premises of messianic neo-imperialism, and the Promethean promises of bio-technology (recall, for instance, the extent to which America’s export[1] of plant-breeding science was an integral part of the Cold War’s defense of capitalist political economics and economy and the ‘battle for freedom’). In other words, the original Green Revolution, as John H. Perkins argued in Geopolitics and the Green Revolution: Wheat, Genes, and the Cold War (Oxford University Press, 1997) was an unmitigated “success” only in terms of an increase in the aggregate physical supply of grain,” and the policies that promoted the new forms of plant-breeding, soil fertility science and hydrologic development were not motivated in the first place by humanitarian considerations (although it did not hurt to rhetorically craft their public rationale in such terms), particularly when we appreciate the fact that questions of distributive justice and political power essential to the explanation of hunger and malnutrition (not to mention famines) were ideologically buried (cf. ‘food for peace) in the political and economic policies (and, we came to learn, ecologically pernicious effects) of the Green Revolution’s[2] myopic and blinkered focus on population growth rates and aggregate food supplies. In the words of Raj Patel, “a technological solution muffled a political problem. The political economy of the Green Revolution has proven intransigent: “India has...destroyed millions of tons of grains, permitting food to rot in silos, while the quality of food eaten by India’s poor is getting worse for the first time since Independence in 1947.”[3] Alternatives to the Green Revolution have taken root in India, particularly in the Indian state of Kerala:

Rather than engaging in a technological fix, Kerala opted for a political solution, beginning with the 1957 Land Reform Ordinance and Education Bill. [....] Land redistribution was brought together as a policy package with public food distribution programmes, employment guarantees, education and healthcare systems, under the administration of the state-led Communist government. The package worked and has led today to the highest levels of literacy, health status and social development in the country, even though Kerala’s population of 30 million is on average poorer than the average citizen elsewhere in India.”[4]

[1] Central here is the role of the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations often working in conjunction with agencies like the World Bank and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). 
[2] See, for example, Vandana Shiva’s The Violence of the Green Revolution (Zed Books & Third World Network, 1991). 
[3] Raj Patel, Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World’s Food System (Melville House Publishing, 2007): p. 3.  
[4] Ibid., p. 127. See too, Sen’s well-known discussion of Kerala’s development as exemplifying a very rapid reduction[] in in mortality rates and enhancement of living conditions, without much economic growth,” in his Development as Freedom (Alfred A. Knopf, 1999). As David A Crocker writes in Ethics of Global Development: Agency, Capability, and Deliberative Democracy (Cambridge University Press, 2008), along with Porto Alegre, Brazil, Kerala has become “iconic of deliberative and democratic development.” On the Communists of Kerala, see Michelle Williams, The Roots of Participatory Democracy: Democratic Communists in South Africa and Kerala, India (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008).