Recently there has been much debate over a farm bill that expands taxpayer-subsidized crop insurance and rejects cuts in food stamps for the poor. The issue is a sensitive one and touches the very core of democrat and republican ideologies.
The democrats want to help the poor and prevent them from starving while the republicans want to cut government expenditure. Both sides have some valid arguments but instead of having a calm and factual debate the issue has become politicized, as is all too often the case.
I'd like to suggest a compromise. The cost of the food stamp program, formerly known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), has risen at an alarming rate. In 2002 the cost of the program was almost 21 bln dollars but in 2012 it was over 78 bln. Something clearly needs to be done.
Now, I'm not suggesting that we shouldn't help the poor but I do think the food stamp program needs to be completely reformed. 47 mln Americans are on food stamps and that's a huge number but I'd like to focus on the cost.
Here's an idea. It's well know that there's a huge waste in the food industry and the supply chain. The USDA estimates that supermarkets lose $15 billion annually in unsold fruits and vegetables alone. One industry consultant estimated that up to one in seven truckloads of perishables delivered to supermarkets is thrown away. Most stores pull items off the shelves 2 to 3 days before the sell-by date. Other waste includes damaged packaging, outdated promotional products and unpopular items.
On the one hand the government is spending billions to feed the poor and on the other hand we have all this food waste. Why can't we just give the wasted food to the poor? Instead of the stores just throwing away food, which they can't sell, they could instead give it to people, who are covered by the food stamp program.
Just to make this kind of solution more attractive to the retailers they could add the value of this food to their operational costs, thus decreasing their taxes. Also, because of consumer awareness, the retailers, who are part of the program, would get a sort of free promotion because they help the poor.
With the right kinds of incentives for retailers it would be possible to shift the entire cost of the food stamp program on to the private sector.