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SNAP decision: Food stamp rules keep firms healthy
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In what world are pork rinds classified as meat, Twinkies as bread, potato chips as a vegetable, and ice cream as the nutritional equivalent of milk?

Try the bureaucratic world that exists along the Potomac River.

For years pork rinds, ice cream, and potato chips have been OK to buy with food stamps and now their plastic card reincarnation as the Snap Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP). That is about to change.

The United States Department of Agriculture last week finally decreed the obvious — ice cream and potato chips aren’t as healthy for you as milk and potatoes. Deciding whole milk is not the same nutritionally as rocky road ice cream was part of a number of USDA modifications involving SNAP.

Why should you care about SNAP guidelines if you’re not one of the 46 million Americans receiving food stamps? Besides the fact the program is costing $75 billion a year and can lead to health problems that could be exacerbated or launched by diets SNAP guidelines allow for recipients that likely rely on taxpayer funded medical care, there is the little detail of your local store.

Convenience stores, gas stations, pharmacies, dollar stores, and liquor stores now take in 11.6 percent of all SNAP expenditures or $8 billion annually.

The USDA has a rule that requires those stores participating in the SNAP program to offer seven varieties of staples in the following food groups: dairy, bread, meat, fruits, and vegetables. In each category three of the seven offerings must be perishable.

This sounds like a good thing — at least at first glance.

But here’s the rub: Big chains that accept SNAP beyond supermarkets have less shelf space for food. In order to not lose almost 12 percent of their business, they have to adjust what they carry. That means that stuff that doesn’t pass USDA muster for the SNAP program would need to go to make way for seven items in each category that meet the new guidelines. That could mean stores either will jettison some items that the 265 million Americans that don’t receive SNAP like or else they drop accepting SNAP altogether.

And like everything else in Washington, D.C., the real drivers behind decisions aren’t the obvious people. As far as SNAP policies are concerned the proverbial 900-pound gorilla isn’t the stores, nutritional advocacy organizations, farmers or even welfare rights groups. It is the corporate food manufacturers.

Producers of frozen pizzas successfully pushed back on a blanket proposal to eliminate items from SNAP that allowed food with multiple ingredients when it can be proved they aren’t healthy.

That led to ice cream and potato chips being dropped from SNAP covered food purchases but for sugar sweetened grape juice or salt saturated canned mushroom soup to remain eligible. Grape juice more conducive to diabetic disease than healthy living got a pass because it contains traces of fruit while hypertension-in a-can is OK because what mushrooms they contain are vegetables.

Mega corporations have more at stake than anyone but taxpayers and SNAP recipients. While Wal-Mart, CVS or Joe’s Corner Liquors would all take hits if they did not comply with the new SNAP rules it is nothing compared to food corporations like General Mills.

With one-seventh of their American customer pool using SNAP to help buy food they can ill afford to have their products banned from the USDA’s list of what you can buy using a SNAP card. At the same time if retailers have to make room on their shelves to add items to meet the seven options per food group requirements in order to still be able to accept SNAP payments that means the squeeze is put on space for corporate food manufacturers’ products.

SNAP is a prime example of government bureaucracy taking a simple program and destroying its original intent. The Food Stamp Act of 1964 that ultimately spawned SNAP in its present form was intended to improve the farm economy and improve nutrition among low-income households.

Today — thanks to bureaucratic expansionism and pressure from large corporations —  the bottom lines of mega food corporations hawking wannabee foods have become healthier, the benefits to the bottom ring of the agricultural ladder is dubious at best, and there’s a valid argument the program has helped further diminish the nutritional health of SNAP recipients.

It has enabled SNAP recipients to afford junk food and wannabee food by tearing down original rules that restricted purchases to pure food whether it was basic canned vegetables or fresh items.

Soft drinks can be bought with SNAP cards. That’s right. The very sugary drinks food police with the government want to tax into oblivion can be bought using SNAP cards and done so without having to pay sales tax.

It gets better. Gift baskets that have 50 percent of their value tied up in food items are SNAP eligible. It begs the question: Why would someone who supposedly can’t afford to feed themselves be buying a gift basket which isn’t exactly the cheapest way to buy food?

Those are two more examples of how an idea born in the Depression has been mangled and distorted to the point where keeping Pepsi flowing from a dispenser into the stomachs of “hungry” recipients is given the same importance of milk flowing from a cow.