World Food Prices Continue To Decline On Cheaper Cereal

Food stamps are pictured. | Reuters

Making it difficult for convenience stores to participate in the food stamp program could disqualify some important sources of nutrition for people that have little or no access to supermarket, says the National Association of Convenience Stores , the industrys trade association. House Republicans railed this year against rising spending on food stamps, now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP. They are demanding $40 billion be cut from the program over 10 years by denying benefits to those who are not working or in government job-training courses. Thats 10 times the comparably meager $4 billion in cuts included in the Senate farm bill. They point to the programs dramatic growth to $80 billion in 2012, up from to $35 billion in 2007. Whether significant cuts to SNAP are needed remains a hotly debated subject, but there is little argument over the need to reduce fraud in the program. Especially not after the USDAs report , released in August, found retailers willing to pay cash in return for the government food credit stole $858 million annually from government coffers from 2009 through 2011. Thats nearly triple the $330 million stolen annually from 2006 through 2008. Only about 15% of all the food stamps used by shoppers in the U.S. are spent at small stores, but they are also the source of 85% of the fraud, according to the USDAs report . The USDA report is essentially a follow up to a Government Accountability Office report released several years ago that told the USDA it needed to focus on small convenience and grocery stores in order to cut down on food stamp fraud. USDAhas good reason to see these small-scale, privately owned stores as a significance source of food stamp fraud. These stores are often short on the fresh fruit, vegetables and meat that SNAP vouchers are intended to purchase, the GAO report said. The USDA isnt waiting for further marching orders from Congress, having just wrapped up a five-city listening tour aimed at hearing the publics complaints and suggestions regarding SNAP fraud. The department also has issued what it calls a request for information in the Federal Register.

Should you worry? (+video) The government shutdown means the FDA has furloughed 45 percent of its workers, and the agency’s routine food inspections have been put on hold. Experts warn that even a short government shutdown could be a lasting problem for the already underfunded FDA. By Schuyler Velasco ,Staff writer / October 3, 2013 Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington last year. The government shutdown means 45 percent of FDA’s workers are furloughed, putting most of the agency’s routine food safety inspections on hold. Susan Walsh/AP/File Enlarge When it comes to the government shutdown, there are plenty of things to feel gloomy and alarmed over. One of the more attention-getting work stoppages so far has been at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), where 45 percent of employees have been sent home and many of the agencys day-to-day activities, most notably food safety inspections, are on hold until the budget impasse is over. The Christian Science Monitor Weekly Digital Edition So, 91 percent of seafood that Americans consume, which the United States imports, is not being inspected, currently. The same goes for the nearly 50 percent of fruits and 20 percent of vegetables consumed in the US but imported from abroad. And though many of inspections here in the US are still being carried out through state and local agencies, reporting any problems encountered at the federal level could be difficult. Detection [of problems] wont be the issue,” says Neal Hooker, a professor of food policy at the John Glenn School of Public Affairs at Ohio State University in Columbus.Management of, say, a product recall, and helping local public-health agencies work more effectively, those parts will be harder to do. The government shutdown has closed down a large part of the FDA, and its food monitoring activities in particular. FDA will be unable to support the majority of its food safety, nutrition, and cosmetics activities, reads a Health and Human Services memo detailing a contingency plan in the case of a government funding stoppage. FDA will also have to cease safety activities such as routine establishment inspections, some compliance and enforcement activities, monitoring of imports, notification programs, and the majority of the laboratory research necessary to inform public health decision-making. RECOMMENDED: Government shutdown quiz The FDA will maintain certain emergency services during the shutdown, including managing high-risk food recalls and other critical public health issues, per the memo.

Government shutdown halts FDA food inspections. Should you worry?

While the most recent food price spike in 2011 was triggered by a lack of cereal supply, the recent declines in food prices are mainly due to higher expected supplies of corn this year. The FAO index averaged 199.1 points in September, 1% lower than in August and 5.4% lower since the start of the year. Global cereal production, which includes wheat and corn, is expected to be 8% higher over 2012s level, at 2.49 billion tons. The U.S., the worlds largest corn producer, is responsible for the bulk of the increase, expected to harvest a record crop of 348 million tonsthats 27% higher than the previous year. U.S. corn supplies have been tight since the size of last years harvest was hit by severe drought. But after high acreage seeded with corn this spring and largely favorable summer weather, the U.S. Department of Agriculture forecasts record U.S. corn output this year. That should push corn prices lower. Current levels mark a drastic turnaround since food prices soared to new heights in early 2011 amid global supply constraints for cereals, sugar and cocoa. Rising food prices helped spark the unrestknown as the Arab Springthat analysts say ultimately ousted the leaders of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. The London-based International Grains Council this month said world corn production during the 2013-14 crop year will hit 943.2 million tons. It also predicted that world wheat production will increase to 692.6 million tons, reflecting better prospects for the European crop than previously expected and a larger harvest out of Russia and Ukraine.