In late September 2019, the U.S. Department of Agriculture finalized rules to deregulate the safety inspection process in pork production and to increase the slaughter of animals, despite the opposition of consumer advocates and several former agency officials.
The new rules allow company employees, rather than USDA inspectors, to determine which parts of meat with defects can be removed from the slaughter process. Companies, instead of USDA inspectors, also will be allowed to determine slaughter speeds, based on their ability to prevent fecal contamination. Continue reading
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
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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
In 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
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
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