Tag Archives: usda

Reporter uses FDA, USDA documents to find year’s biggest food recall

Bara Vaida

About Bara Vaida

Bara Vaida (@barav) is AHCJ's core topic leader on infectious diseases. An independent journalist, she has written extensively about health policy and infectious diseases. Her work has appeared in outlets that include the National Journal, Agence France-Presse, Bloomberg News, McClatchy News Service, MSNBC, NPR, Politico and The Washington Post.

Photo: Victor Wong via Flickr

In 2018, salmonella, e. coli and listeria bacteria were the cause of a number of big food recalls – from romaine lettuce to Duncan Hines cake mix to ground beef.

These recalls got a lot of media attention, but the biggest recall of all in 2018 got little, according to Sam Bloch, a reporter for The New Food Economy, who wrote “The biggest food recall of 2018 is one you still haven’t heard about.” Continue reading

In right-to-know victory, appeals court rules that USDA must release food stamp sales data

Felice J. Freyer

About Felice J. Freyer

Felice J. Freyer is AHCJ's vice president and chair of the organization's Right to Know Committee. She is a health care reporter for The Boston Globe.

Photo: Eric via Flickr

A South Dakota newspaper on Tuesday won a seven-year legal battle to obtain information about retailers who participate in the food stamps program. The ruling is a victory for government transparency on an issue that has been a subject of AHCJ advocacy.

The Argus Leader of Sioux Falls reported that a three-judge panel of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals on May 8 cleared the way for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to release information on how much money individual retailers make from participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the formal name for the food stamps program. Continue reading

Court strikes down USDA claim that food stamp program data is exempt from FOIA

Irene M. Wielawski

About Irene M. Wielawski

Irene M. Wielawski (@wielawski), an independent journalist based in New York, is a founder and former board member of AHCJ and serves on the organization’s Right to Know Committee.

SNAPIn a victory for advocates of government transparency, a federal appeals court on Tuesday rejected the government’s arguments for withholding data on how much money individual retailers earn from food stamps.

Acting in a case brought by a South Dakota newspaper, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit unanimously ruled against the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s claim that a federal law bars disclosure of retailers’ earning from food stamps.

The Argus Leader in Sioux Falls filed suit after the USDA rejected the newspaper’s Freedom of Information Act request for data on annual payments to individual retailers from 2005 to 2010. The USDA argued that a law protecting the privacy of retailers’ applications to participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP (the official name for food stamps) prohibited release of that information. A district court had earlier sided with the government, ruling that this information was exempt from FOIA, but the appeals court on Tuesday disagreed. Continue reading

Pa. bill would require disclosure of food stamp purchases

Felice J. Freyer

About Felice J. Freyer

Felice J. Freyer is AHCJ's vice president and chair of the organization's Right to Know Committee. She is a health care reporter for The Boston Globe.

Food stamps

Photo by cosmocatalano via Flickr

A Pennsylvania congressman last week filed a bill that would require retailers to report which items are bought with food stamps.

The proposed “SNAP Transparency Act,” sponsored by Republican Rep. Tom Marino, would require the secretary of agriculture to establish a uniform reporting system under which retailers would track “the complete range, identities, sizes, quantities, and costs of particular food items” purchased with benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps.

If passed, the legislation could give journalists and advocates access to long-sought information about the food purchases of SNAP recipients, at a time of growing concern about their access to healthy foods and about obesity and related health problems among the poor. Currently the U.S. Department of Agriculture does not have the authority to collect such information.

The act would address one of two issues raised in a recent letter to Agriculture Sec. Tom Vilsack from AHCJ and six other organizations representing journalists and open-government advocates. Continue reading

Journalists call on USDA to release food stamp information

Felice J. Freyer & Irene Wielawski

About Felice J. Freyer & Irene Wielawski

Felice J. Freyer and Irene Wielawski are co-chairs of AHCJ's Right to Know Committee and members of AHCJ's board of directors.

The Association of Health Care Journalists, along with six other journalism and open-government groups, has called on the U.S. Department of Agriculture to release to the public vital information about the multibillion-dollar food stamps program.

Currently, the USDA refuses to reveal how much money individual retailers make from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as food stamps. Additionally, the USDA does not disclose which products are purchased with SNAP dollars or how much is spent on each product, in aggregate.

This information could show which businesses benefit from the program and also inform public policy debates about obesity and its causes, the organization argues.

The USDA’s position runs contrary to President Obama’s promise of government transparency, and stands in sharp contrast with practices at other federal agencies. For example, the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families discloses where recipients used their EBT cards to withdraw cash assistance. A wealth of information is available about Medicare and Medicaid. Continue reading

Food Environment Atlas full of story ideas, data

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

The Food Environment Atlas, produced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, may be one of the best things to happen to folks who love maps and health statistics.

The folks at Daily Yonder have put together a little showcase of what the atlas can do, but it’s a testament to the Atlas’ astonishing depth that they’ve only scratched the surface. Want a county-by-county map of the relative price of low-fat milk versus sugary drinks? How about the percentage of households with no car that live more than a mile from the nearest grocery store or even the level of tax charged for salty vending machine snacks? No sweat!

With county-by-county information about food taxes, physical activity, socioeconomic characteristics, rates of diabetes and obesity and lots more, reporters should find a treasure trove of story ideas and data. And the data behind the application is available to download as an Excel file.

Jeff Porter, AHCJ’s resident data guru, says the site features “great underlying documentation and enough info to join up with any county-level data with the same geographic codes.”

The data for the map is collected from the CDC, the National Cancer Institute; the USDA, the National Farm-to-School Network and the Bridging the Gap Program at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

(Hat tip to John Hale at The Rural Blog)