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Poll: Government should do more to ensure access to fresh, local foods

May 23, 2012|By Kim Geiger
  • With more Americans eating fresh produce, a new focus has been put on federal food programs focusing on supporting smaller farmers.
With more Americans eating fresh produce, a new focus has been put on federal… (Getty Images )

A vast majority of Americans say they eat more whole grains and fresh produce than they did five years ago, but many believe the federal government needs to do more to ensure greater access to locally produced fresh food, according to a new survey.
 
Eighty-four percent of adults surveyed said federal food programs should focus more on supporting smaller, local fruit and vegetable farmers and should provide incentives for development of new businesses that offer "locally produced healthy food," according to the poll, which was commissioned by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

Nearly all -- 93% -- said they think that it's "very important" or "somewhat important" to "make sure all Americans have equal access to fresh fruits and vegetables." Three-quarters of respondents said they would support a national program to double the value of food stamp benefits that are used at farmers markets.

The survey comes at a time when Republicans and Democrats in Congress are locked in a heated disagreement over proposed cuts to the food stamp program. Food stamps are one of the most direct ways that the federal government can give a boost to local farmers and produce markets.

The number of food stamp recipients peaked last year at nearly 45 million, as did the cost of the program -- $78 billion. One in seven Americans received food stamps at some point in 2011, and the Congressional Budget Office projects that the number of participants will continue to rise into 2014.

Advocates for farmers markets see this as an opportunity to reach more consumers and improve dietary health. They have been lobbying to make food stamps and farmers markets more compatible, with some success.

Of the $64 billion food stamp dollars that were redeemed in 2010 -- the most recent year for which data are available -- .012% moved through farmers markets, up from .008% of the $50 billion in food stamps that were redeemed in 2009, according to the Farmers Market Coalition.

Earlier this month, the Department of Agriculture announced $4 million in funding to increase the number of farmers markets that are equipped to accept food stamps. Of California's 687 farmers markets, just 134 participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, according to the USDA. The money will be used to help more farmers markets acquire the wireless point-of-sale equipment used to process food stamp payments. California could receive as much as $426,945, according to USDA estimates.

Meanwhile, Congress is in the midst of a showdown over food stamp funding and the issue threatens to derail passage of this year’s farm bill, a once-every-five-years legislative task.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said earlier this month that House GOP demands for steep cuts to food stamps were the greatest barrier preventing passage of a farm bill. Republicans want to hand the program over to the states in the form of block grants.

"That's obviously just not going to happen," Vilsack said in an interview with The Hill.

The House-passed 2013 budget would cut food stamps by $35.8 billion over 10 years, while the bill that cleared the Senate Agriculture Committee last month would cut just $4 billion.

Democrats say funding for food stamps should be maintained in order to help needy families and boost the economy.

Each $1-billion increase in food stamp benefits is estimated to create or maintain 18,000 full-time equivalent jobs, including 3,000 farm jobs, according to the USDA. The economy grows by $1.73 for every $1 invested in food stamps, according to Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody's Analytics and a former advisor to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

The survey was conducted by Lauer Johnson Research, which interviewed 800 adults, on land lines and cellphones April 18-22. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. The W.K. Kellogg Foundation is a nonprofit organization that derives its funding in part from equity in Kellogg Company.

kim.geiger@latimes.com

Original source: More Americans now eating whole grains, fresh produce

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