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Open Access Publications from the University of California

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.

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