If "sugary pop" is excluded from food stamp benefits, what great loss would it be? Not much in my opinion, and it might be an opportunity for increased fruit and vegetable purchases.  The question is relevant since NY wants to exclude pop from NYC food stamp benefits for a trial period of two years.  I think the USDA will be hard pressed to turn down this temporary, fact-finding trial.

One member of the Fresh Produce Industry Discussion Group agreed with me when I posed the question for them...

"I think they should be banned from food stamps. If you look at the WIC program it is similar to food stamps in that if you qualify for the program you get coupons/money each month to buy only WIC approved items ( milk, certain cereals- typically healthier ones like Cheeerios, cheese, baby formula etc.) if it is not an approved item you can not use your WIC coupons to purchase it. Food Stamps should be handled the same way. If you are in an unfortunate situation where you rely on this type of aide then why can't we go the extra step to promote healthier eating habits as well?

Here is some reporting on the issue I did yesterday........

New York is asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture permission to exclude sugary drinks from food stamp benefits for residents of New York City for a trial period,

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Governor David Paterson on Oct. 7 announced an initiative submitted to the USDA to exclude sugar-sweetened beverages from the list of allowable purchases by the city’s food stamp recipients.

Under the proposal, city food stamp recipients would continue to receive the same amount of government-funded benefits, but would be prevented from using food stamps to buy sugary sweetened beverages for two years.

“In spite of the great gains we’ve made over the past eight years in making our communities healthier, there are still two areas where we’re losing ground – obesity and diabetes,” Bloomberg said in a statement.

He noted New York City has already implemented a series of programs that bring fresh fruits and vegetables to the communities that need them and set nutrition standards for all meals and snacks the city provides. “This initiative will give New York families more money to spend on foods and drinks that provide real nourishment,” he said in the relapse.

Americans now consume an average of 200 to 300 more calories each day than three decades ago, and the news release said half of those calories come from sugary drinks. Obesity related illness cost New York state residents nearly $8 billion, and more than half of the residents of New York City are overweight or obese, the release said.
USDA data show that about 6% of food stamp benefits are used to purchase sugary drinks, which would translate to about $75 to $135 million in New York City, the release said. The New York proposal defines sugar sweetened beverages as those containing more than 10 calories per eight ounces, excluding fruit juices, milk and milk substitutes.

If approved by USDA, it would mark the first time that an item would be banned from the food stamp program – now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – based on nutritional value.

One nutrition advocacy group backed the New York proposal.

“The empty calories in soft drinks pose a major public health problem by promoting tooth decay, obesity, diabetes, and other health problems,” Michael Jacobsen, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Science in the Public Interest said in a statement.

Jeff Cronin, communications director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said that plenty of other federal feeding programs exclude food based on nutrition standards

“The school lunch and the school breakfast program have nutrition standards that exclude soda and other things and the WIC program has very strong nutrition criteria that only allow the healthiest possible foods,” he said. “There is precedent for nutrition standards being attached to government food dollars.”

Cronin said rough estimates by CSPI staff place the amount of food stamp benefits spent on soda and other sugary drinks at close to $4 billion per year.

While the USDA has rejected the idea of limiting food stamp choices previously – Minnesota wanted to ban junk food in 2004 and Maine asked to exclude sugary drinks in 2008 - Cronin said it was within the realm of possibility that USDA would consider approving New York’s request.

“There have been some significant changes at USDA, but we have no information about what they will do with this,” he said.

When the USDA rejected Minnesota’s request to ban junk food in 2004, the agency said the exclusion would violate the Food Stamp Act’s definition of food and add to confusion at checkout registers.