Final Farm Bill Signed and in Effect
By Densie Webb, PhD, RD
Every five years, Congress passes legislation that sets national agriculture, nutrition, conservation, and forestry policy, commonly referred to as the Farm Bill. The latest iteration of the bill was passed after heated negotiations between the House and the Senate and was signed by the president in December 2018. Here are some of the highlights of the $867 billion, 807-page bill (with an 11-page table of contents) as it relates to nutrition. Though the funding is set for a 10-year period, the individual aspects of the bill will be up for renewal in five years. Child Nutrition Programs are renewed under separate legislation.
"The Farm Bill helps prevent malnutrition and food insecurity for the 1 in 8 Americans who are food insecure," says Lauri Wright, PhD, RDN, LDN, chair of the department of nutrition and dietetics at the University of North Florida and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "It also provides nutrition education so recipients learn to use the food more effectively. It's really important that dietitians recognize that you can't just give more access to food; you have to show how to incorporate it."
Below are some of the major nutrition programs funded through the 2018 Farm Bill.
SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as the Food Stamp Program), which makes up almost 80% of the Farm Bill's budget, has been renewed with no cuts in funding. SNAP provides benefits to recipients of SNAP-eligible foods at SNAP-participating retailers. Benefit amounts vary by household size and benefit calculation rules. There was considerable debate over adding stricter work requirements to eligibility, but they were absent from the final signed bill. However, it's up to individual states to interpret and enforce the work requirements. The USDA will be directed to expand incentives for eligible consumers to use SNAP benefits. However, according to The Washington Post, the Trump administration has signaled its intention to reduce SNAP funding without approval from Congress, and the bill doesn't prevent such an action. In the meantime, a National Accuracy Clearinghouse dataset will be created to prevent fraudulent use of the program. Stay tuned.
Commodity Supplemental Food Program
The Commodity Supplemental Food Program provides supplemental monthly food packages to primarily low-income individuals aged 60 or older. While application requirements vary by state, and federal regulations have required certification every six to 12 months, the Farm Bill provides individual states with the ability to extend the certification period to three years. No significant changes were made to the funding or regulations for other commodity distribution programs.
Senior Farmers' Market Nutrition Program
The Senior Farmers' Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP) will continue to be funded. The program issues grants to states, US territories, and federally recognized Indian tribal governments to provide low-income seniors with coupons that can be exchanged for eligible food (eg, fruits, vegetables, honey, and fresh-cut herbs) at farmers' markets, roadside stands, and community-supported agriculture programs. The SFMNP is administered by state agencies such as the State Department of Agriculture or Agency on Aging.
Fresh Fruit and Vegetable ("Snack") Program
The Fresh Fruit and Vegetable ("Snack") Program will continue to be funded to provide free fresh fruit and vegetable snacks to low-income elementary school students in an effort to combat obesity.
Community Food Projects
Community Food Projects is a competitive grant program designed to fight food insecurity. The program enables low-income communities to develop food projects that help promote self-sufficiency and increase food security. It does this by assessing strengths and establishing links within the larger food system. Funding is included in the 2018 Farm Bill.
The bill allotted $395 million of permanent funding for research on organics, but, according to Marion Nestle, PhD, MPH, former chair of food studies and public health at New York University and visiting professor of nutritional sciences at Cornell University, as stated on her blog, Food Politics, provisions in the bill weaken the ability of the National Organic Standards Board to advise the USDA Secretary on organic matters. It also loosens restrictions on chemicals that can be used in the production of organic food products. Details on specific chemicals that could be affected aren't yet available.
— Densie Webb, PhD, RD, is a freelance writer, editor, and industry consultant based in Austin, Texas.
1. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). US Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service website. https://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/supplemental-nutrition-assistance-program-snap. Updated April 25, 2018.
2. Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP). US Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service website. https://www.fns.usda.gov/csfp/commodity-supplemental-food-program-csfp. Updated June 6, 2018.
3. Senior Farmers' Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP). US Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service website. https://www.fns.usda.gov/sfmnp/senior-farmers-market-nutrition-program-sfmnp. Updated April 15, 2015.
4. Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program. US Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service website. https://www.fns.usda.gov/ffvp/fresh-fruit-and-vegetable-program. Updated April 20, 2018.
5. Community Food Projects Competitive Grant Program (CFPCGP). US Department of Agriculture, National Institute of Food and Agriculture website. https://nifa.usda.gov/program/community-food-projects-competitive-grant-program-cfpcgp
6. New Farm Bill weakens organic regulatory oversight. The Cornucopia Institute website. https://www.cornucopia.org/2018/12/new-farm-bill-weakens-organic-regulatory-oversight/. Published December 13, 2018.
Previously, hemp fell under the Controlled Substances Act, which made it an illegal substance under federal law. Under the new Farm Bill, $2 million is earmarked for support of hemp as a crop. Cannabidiol (CBD) made from hemp currently is available as an over-the-counter medicinal supplement in most states. However, it still may be illegal to sell a food or dietary supplement that contains added CBD or THC in interstate commerce.
1. Statement from FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D., on signing of the Agriculture Improvement Act and the agency's regulation of products containing cannabis and cannabis-derived compounds. US Food and Drug Administration website. https://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/ucm628988.htm. Published December 20, 2018.