There’s plenty of egregious Department of Agriculture (USDA) programs that Congress needs to address. In addition to repealing programs, Congress can use the appropriations process to eliminate or condition funding for programs; the appropriations process can also be used to make important policy changes.
Here are just three USDA programs that Congress should address through appropriations.
1. Food Stamps: Heat and Eat
This loophole in the food stamp program allows states to artificially boost the amount of food stamp benefits a household receives by mailing out token checks, for amounts as small as $1, from the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program.
Congress attempted to close this loophole in the farm bill, but failed to do so. In 2012, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that getting rid of Heat and Eat would save an estimated $14.3 billion over 10 years. The savings may be smaller because of potential savings achieved by the farm bill.
Congress should close the loophole or at a minimum stop providing funding to states that are using the loophole.
2. Dietary Guidelines: Environmental Extremism
Every five years, the USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services issue dietary guidelines to inform the public about healthy eating.
The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) is at work now preparing recommendations that will inform the 2015 guidelines. In addition to focusing on human health alone, the DGAC is also concerned with the health of the planet. Dr. Barbara Millen, chair of the DGAC, explained at the DGAC’s first meeting, “Overall, we want to be certain to make recommendations for a healthy, ecologically responsible diet.”
This environmental focus is dangerous. The guidelines are supposed to reflect the best advice on nutritional policy for humans, not advice that is being weighed (in any manner) against the interests of the environment.
There should be no funds provided to implement the dietary guidelines unless human health is the one and only consideration.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) inspects all seafood, but an exception was created in the 2008 farm bill that would require the USDA to inspect catfish. This requirement hasn’t been implemented yet, but it will require many seafood processors to comply with both FDA and USDA regulations.
The USDA has estimated that the cost for government and business would be $14 million annually (98 percent of this cost borne by the federal government).
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) hasn’t been subtle about its views on the program, publishing a 2012 report entitled “Responsibility for Inspecting Catfish Should Not Be Assigned to USDA.”
There’s no reason for special treatment for catfish. Claims that the program is needed for health reasons are unsubstantiated. GAO has explained that the program “would result in duplication of federal programs and cost taxpayers millions of dollars annually without enhancing the safety of catfish intended for human consumption.” The program also creates trade barriers for foreign exporters that would limit domestic competition and likely invite retaliation from foreign countries against other agriculture industries.
The program should be repealed. At a minimum, Congress should provide no funding for its implementation.