TOPIC: Dept. of Agriculture

Future of food at the Post? Or future of foodies?

Usually I look at the Food section of the Washington Post to see recipes for great dishes I will never make, or read reviews of restaurants I’ll probably never see the inside of.  But this week the Post’s foodies took a stab at serious journalism on the question of the future of food, and I just couldn’t stay away.

Tim Carman reviews a Post-sponsored conference at Georgetown University on malnutrition, obesity, and world hunger with the same strategy he generally uses for Washington’s we try harder restaurant scene:  sprightly comments about the appetizers, a weightier look at the main dishes, and then — do you have room for dessert? — a sweet finish.   Overall, it left me hungry for more something a bit more insightful.


For California water supply, $150 million spent to not solve the problem

California salmon run

Four years and $150 million into a major study of plans to re-engineer elements of California’s main source of water, a National Science Foundation review found the multi-billion-dollar proposal confused, poorly defined and inadequately researched.  That’s the gist of a piece by Gosia Wozniacka of The Associated Press picked up by the Riverside Press Enterprise.

Power brokers managing California’s fresh water supplies have long sought more access to the state’s two major rivers — the Sacramento and the San Joaquin. But taking too much water from the rivers creates all sorts of problems: (more…)

Scott Walker’s assault on food stamp administrators

Scott Walker

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is known nationally for a budget law that significantly weakened public employee unions. But there are other ways Walker seeks to implement his anti-government employee philosophy of governance. Jason Stein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that Walker wants private contractors, not state and county employees, to determine who is eligible for the federal food stamp program. But privatization worked disastrously in the two other states that tried it, and it will result in the loss of federal money.

Currently Wisconsin has 800,000 participants in its about $1 billion a year food stamp program, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. (more…)

How bad is food stamp fraud?

The use of food stamps, funded in the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture budget, has steadily increased over the last decade. Most media outlets have, for the most part, viewed this is as a good thing — a program with low overhead directly helping poor people. But the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel’s Raquel Rutledge and Jason Stein report fraud has “tainted” the use of food stamps, though it’s not clear if the fraud is widespread or pernicious. However, if food stamp use continues to rise, federal and state government must do a better job at investigating fraud. (more…)

Stop these programs before somebody else dies

David Fahrentold shoots across the bow of some government programs that never die — including a subsidy in the Ag Department for promoting U.S. farm products overseas, a long-time exchange program for Asian journalists at the University of Hawaii, and a program that pays for abandoned coal mines to be cleaned up even though most of the worst ones have already been handled.  His reporting reveals the cynicism that goes into supporting these programs, which are usually the pet projects of certain legislators (the Univ. of Hawaii program is a long-time favorite of Hawaii Democrat Daniel Inouye).  Similar projects supported by senators Robert Byrd or Ted Stevens or Rep. John Murtha were recently shelved, saving taxpayers millions.  But it looks like that only happened because, with all due respect, these legislators died.

Does someone else have to die before these programs get cut out of the budget? (more…)

Putting a face to food stamp recipients

The Illinois House of Representatives passed a bill yesterday that would have the state’s Dept. of Human Services study the cost of putting ID photos on resident’s Illinois “Link” — i.e. food stamp — cards. As the legislation moves to the Illinois senate, it’s not clear if the bill is a solution in search of a problem, as there is little evidence that widespread food stamp fraud exists. The debate comes as 900,000 people in Illinois — and 43 million, or 13 percent, of all Americans are enrolled in food stamps, the federally paid for, state-administered nutrition program. (more…)

Cutting farm conservation subsidies

For the most part I’m opposed to the environment-related cuts in the respective 2012 budgets proposed by the Obama administration and Congress, but this one has some merit. Rick Barrett of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that Congress is threatening to eliminate the $2 billion conservation reserve program — a program (run out of the Ag Dept.) that pays farmers not to grow crops, with two very different goals:  keeping commodity prices artificially high and protecting land inhabited by wildlife.

It seems like there could be less expensive ways to protect wildlife (would wildlife sanctuaries be cheaper than subsidies?). Accustomed to federal support, the farmers who benefit from the program have an “I want cake but I also want pizza!” attitude where they are against cuts but also want to start using the land to plant high-profit corn and soybeans.

Hungry not getting food stamps

Julie Wurth of the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette localizes a national study on hunger by Feeding America, a hunger relief organization. The study finds that of the 79,000 people who are “food insecure” in East Central Illinois, 55 percent do not qualify for food stamps because their income is greater than 130 percent of the federal poverty level.

This is especially unsettling because the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, b/k/a food stamps, is one of the more successful federal government responses to the recession. According to this study, though, there are thousands of hungry Americans who still do not qualify for federal food assistance.

On genetically-modified crops: that’s politics, folks

Sec. Vilsack

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is shocked, shocked by the divide between organic farmers and agribusiness on the question of GMO foods, as Lyndsey Layton reports in the Washington Post.  “Each side is so passionate, [a]nd each side is convinced that it’s right.  Vilsack, named “Governor of the Year” by the Biotechnology Industry Organization (nice URL grab, guys!), has been on the side of the big guys before, and recent rulings allowing unrestricted farming of genetically-modified alfalfa and other crops show how he walks, no matter how he talks.  Still, you shouldn’t believe that this is a David and Goliath fight. (more…)

Identifying small-scale fraud with foodstamps

Food stamps are maybe the best-functioning part of the social safety net in both Illinois and the country.  Is there any real reason to mess with them?  Now an Illinois House committee has approved a bill requiring that all Illinois Link cards, the debit-like card used by food stamp recipients, have a photo ID.  Hannah Hess of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that not only must the full Illinois state legislature and governor approve the measure, but the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, which funds food stamps, must also sign off.  Supporting lawmakers contend the photo IDs will stop those who use a link card other than their own. However, there is little evidence food stamp fraud is a widespread problem, or that it has been costing the government a significant amount of money.