California advocacy/consulting group Eat Drink Politics is making headlines with a new report saying the federal food stamp program—aka SNAP—should support farmers, not junk food companies. Fair enough. But the group’s proposed solution starts to veer into crazy town: Requiring retailers to collect and disclose information on all products purchased via SNAP benefits. Yikes. That’s a lot of privacy invading, bureaucratic nonsense just to have empirical data that Americans buy a lot of soda.
The group also wants data on EBT fees collected by banks now that benefits come on debit cards instead of stamps.
According to the report, SNAP dollars now represent more than 10% of all grocery store purchases. I’m not entirely unsympathetic to arguments for limiting allowable SNAP purchases, though I’m also not thrilled about supporting the idea that governments know better than individuals what makes sense for them to buy. But regardless, it doesn’t seem like monitoring all SNAP purchases is at all necessary in order to debate and decide on any new categories of unallowable purchases (right now, these include alcohol, tobacco, pet food, soap, household supplies, vitamins and medicines, prepared foods or paper products).
Ultimately, the issues the report brings up are good ones: What kinds of products should and shouldn’t be purchasable using SNAP benefits? What is the purpose of the program, sustenance or a certain nutritional agenda? Should benefits be allowed for foods that fuel America’s obesity problem? But with advocacy-oriented consulting firms like this, you’ve got to wonder who’s actually funding and benefitting from the research. This study was conducted by Michele Simon, “a public health lawyer specializing in industry marketing and lobbying tactics.” So.
Thus far, city and state attempts to limit food stamp purchases of cakes, candy, chips and sugary drinks have failed or stalled (last year, the USDA nixed a plan by NYC Mayor Bloomberg to ban sugary drink purchases).