Volume 60, Issue 1, 2006
Marketplace incentives could bring U.S. agriculture and nutrition policy into accord while improving diets of low-income Americans
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) could help improve public health by creating a retail-based mechanism to provide participants in its Food Stamp Program (FSP) with significant monetary incentives to purchase health-promoting foods, such as minimally processed fruits, vegetables and whole-grain products. Increasing the consumption of health-promoting foods is of immediate importance in combating skyrocketing rates of diet-related chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and obesity, all of which disproportionately affect low-income consumers. This incentive program could be paid for out of the tens of billions of dollars currently spent on annual commodity support payments. The redirected funds could be used to reimburse retailers and wholesaler-distributors for lost revenues, and to provide growers and processors with direct payments. The USDA would do well to consider such an approach because U.S. farm and nutrition policies often lack coherence and are not designed specifically to improve the health of U.S. consumers. This approach would also benefit California specialty crop growers, who currently receive a small proportion of federal subsidies and no direct commodity payments whatsoever.
Information is lacking on what consumers want to know about food production, processing, transportation and retailing. Focus groups and a random-sample mail survey of consumers in the Central Coast region indicate that food safety and nutrition generate the most interest. However, ethical concerns such as the humane treatment of animals, the environmental impacts of food production and social justice for farmworkers also have strong support. The results suggest that voluntary food labels on these issues may be a promising way to meet consumer needs for more information.
We developed a short food behavior checklist (FBC) to evaluate the impact of nutrition education on fruit and vegetable intake among ethnically diverse women in the Food Stamp Nutrition Education Program (FSNEP) and the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP). To validate the FBC, interviewers collected three 24-hour dietary recalls as well as responses to 11 FBC behavioral questions about fruits and vegetables from 100 English-speaking, low-income women at baseline. A randomly selected subgroup (n = 59) provided a blood sample for analysis of total serum carotenoids at baseline and follow-up. After 6 hours of nutrition education, the treatment group reported significant improvements in three of the seven FBC questions related to fruit and vegetable intake, while no significant changes occurred in the control group. Furthermore, six of the seven FBC questions were significantly correlated with total serum carotenoids. This short, culturally neutral FBC is a valid and reliable indicator of fruit and vegetable consumption. Compared with the 24-hour dietary recall, it is also less time-consuming to administer, code and analyze, with a reduced respondent burden.
Hand-harvest work in wine grape vineyards is physically demanding and exposes workers to a variety of ergonomics risk factors. Analysis of these exposures together with data on reported work-related injuries points to the risk of back injury as a prevention priority, in particular the lifting and carrying of tubs of cut grapes (weighing up to 80 pounds) during harvest. Our study evaluated the effectiveness of an intervention — the use of a smaller picking tub — on the incidence of musculoskeletal symptoms among workers during two harvest seasons. Reducing the weight of the picking tub by 19% (to below 50 pounds) resulted in a five-fold reduction in workers’ post-season musculoskeletal symptom scores, without significant reductions in productivity.
The vine mealybug is a newly invasive pest that has spread throughout California’s extensive grape-growing regions. Researchers are investigating new control tools to be used in combination with or as an alternative to standard organophosphate insecticide controls. Insect growth regulators and nicotine-based insecticides provide good alternative pesticides for use in some vineyards. Ongoing studies on the augmentative release of natural enemies and mating disruption also show promise, but commercial products are not yet available to growers.