Oftentimes when Americans seek answers as to how or what we should eat, we (myself included) look to Europe. Progressive policies requiring the disclosure of genetically modified food ingredients, a relatively large resistance to globalized industrial agriculture systems, and modern societies that generally encourage healthy and pleasurable eating habits are only a few examples of important lessons that Americans could learn from our European peers. Even still, we should remember that European food and farming policy decisions are not always examples worth following.
Last fall, the European Union considered “a roughly 75 percent cut in funding for a program that helps feed 18 million of its poorest citizens” during a winter of rising unemployment and consumer food prices [CBS News]. Six countries – Germany, Britain, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Denmark, and Sweden – supported the abrupt cut of an EU program that began 25 years ago as an effort to distribute “food from surpluses within the EU’s bloated farm program [CBS News].” These six countries argued that “the program was [no longer] living up to its original mandate of using excess products…[and] that social policies like this should be funded by EU states individually [CBS News].”
The decision to cut funding to The Food for the Deprived program on January 1, 2012 was eventually denied since food banks had no backup plan in light of the very short notice. Instead, the program’s funding (500 million euros, or 1 percent of the total Common Agricultural Policy budget) was extended for at least two more years to allow the time for food banks to establish alternative solutions. The program, one of the last social policies managed at the European level, will be definitively cut in 2014.
The general debate over how social policies should be handled in the EU is understandably not of immediate importance for many Americans. However, the debate over supporting social policies like food aid during a time of economic difficulty – especially while the federal legislation is currently being discussed in Congress – should be.
The USDA’s SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) currently provides food for over 46 million people, or 15 percent of the nation’s population, each month. SNAP’s overall enrollment has steadily grown since 2007. The program has recently set record numbers of enrollment that are “comparable to the percentage of the American workforce affected by unemployment or underemployment [FRAC].” In addition to this growing population, it is estimated that “three in ten people eligible for SNAP go unserved [FRAC].”
The U.S. Census Bureau and USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) report that “SNAP benefits lift people out of poverty,” in addition to making huge differences on enrolled members’ economic well-being and health [FRAC]. Despite these benefits, cuts to SNAP’s average annual spending of roughly $68 billion – including a proposal to convert the entire system into block grants – are currently up for debate as part of the 2012 Farm Bill. According to the Community Food Security Coalition, “block granting would prevent the program from responding to fluctuations in need and place a cap on spending.” Stopping SNAP from spending when needed, and/or restructuring the system, could seriously affect both enrolled members as well as the potential enrollment of eligible participants during a time of growing need.
Critical decisions regarding the 2012 Farm Bill are scheduled over the coming weeks. To learn more about the Farm Bill, SNAP, and how to contact your member of Congress, I recommend the following resources:
- Food Research and Action Center
- USDA Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
- USDA Farm Service Agency
- NY Times piece, “The Farm Bill, Beyond the Farm”
- Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
- Environmental Working Group
- Community Food Security Coalition
- National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition