In an engaging discussion at AEI on Thursday, leading scholars in agricultural economics discussed the effectiveness of U.S. food and nutrition policy and its interaction with agricultural policy.
Presenting his own work in addition to that of his colleague Julian M. Alston, Daniel Sumner of the University of California, Davis, suggested that food programs originally designed to alleviate hunger must now address spiking obesity rates among their target populations. Sumner emphasized the difficulty of determining appropriate measures and objectives for such programs, given the complexity of balancing two seemingly opposing objectives. At the same time, Sumner suggested that attaching social safety net programs to agricultural policy is nonsensical.
Laurian Unnevehr of the International Food Policy Research Institute expressed her agreement with many of Sumner's comments but focused more heavily on the effectiveness of the existing food and nutrition policies. She posited that although the presence of social safety net programs in the 2012 Farm Bill may not be entirely intuitive, such programs have been successful in carrying out their goals and adjusting to changing circumstances.
Pointing to the Great Recession as an example, Unnevehr observed that Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) outlays increased dramatically as transfers from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program ran out. In serving the poorest of the poor, she said, SNAP has demonstrated success. Yet Unnevehr, like Sumner, disagreed strongly with policies that favor more localized food systems in an effort to address obesity, arguing that "any call for layering distortions into markets is not going to be a move in the right direction."
-- Brad Wassink
A total of 15 different U.S. food and nutrition programs (FANPs) serve about one in four Americans at a current annual cost of almost $100 billion. Can the government actually improve our personal eating habits? Are these billions of dollars well-spent?
These questions are not easy to answer because of the modern paradox facing these programs: poor people struggling with low food security and high obesity. Agricultural economists Daniel Sumner and Laurian Unnevehr will discuss the effectiveness of current food policy and proposed reforms such as taxing foods according to fat or sugar content.