Proposed changes to food stamps program could take a bite out of seafood sales

U.S. President Donald Trump’s 2019 budget proposal, which includes deep cuts to the U.S. food stamp program, could harm seafood sales at U.S. supermarket chains, organizations told SeafoodSource.

The Trump administration proposes slashing the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or “food stamps” program, by USD 17.2 billion (EUR 13.8 billion) in 2019, or around 22 percent compared to last year’s funding. 

In addition, the program would shift to a boxed food delivery program. The current system allows SNAP participants to purchase their  groceries at supermarket chains, farmers markets, and other retail locations.

Under the new proposal, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), would deliver packages of U.S.-grown commodities such as shelf-stable milk, juice, grains, cereals, pasta, peanut butter, beans, along with canned meat, fruits and vegetables to recipients. 

USDA estimates that it could provide the boxed delivery program at half the cost of the current retail program.

“Seafood is the only major food group that is not considered a USDA commodity. If the new food delivery platform is going to put an emphasis on commodity goods, then that will leave out lean, heart-healthy seafood, which is the only significant source of essential nutrients such as omega-3s EPA and DHA, as well as selenium,” Linda Cornish, president of Seafood Nutrition Partnership, told SeafoodSource.

Congressional legislation is required to implement the Trump administration’s proposed changes to the SNAP program, Cornish said. The National Fisheries Institute, the U.S. seafood industry’s lobbying group, said in a statement provided to SeafoodSource that it would push for the inclusion of more seafood in any reform to the current program.

“Unfortunately, as it stands now, many Americans eat too little seafood to realize the many benefits associated with this nutrient-dense protein. Lower-income Americans in particular should not be deprived of the health benefits from seafood,” NFI said. “With the documented evidence of these benefits in mind, changes to government nutrition programs must encourage efforts to increase the consumption of seafood – fresh, frozen and canned – by all Americans.”

If Congress enacts Trump’s reforms, Cornish said it is likely that canned seafood, including tuna, salmon and sardines, “would take the bulk of the hit, since about 60 percent of fish and shellfish sales at grocery chains nationwide come from shelf-stable seafood,” she added.

However, since the proposed budget refers to “100-percent American-grown food,” which also mentions fish as part of the package, “then we could see a shift in demand to domestic seafood,” Cornish said. “Canned seafood such as tuna, salmon, clams manufactured in the U.S. could end up in more homes across America.”

If the food delivery was conducted by firms other than retailers, grocers would “have a significant financial impact in seafood sales and across the store,” Cornish said.

The Food Marketing Institute, which represents U.S. grocery chains, criticized the proposed changes to SNAP.  

“Perhaps this proposal would save money in one account; but, based on our decades of experience in the program, it would increase costs in other areas that would negate any savings,” Jennifer Hatcher, FMI’s chief public policy officer, said. “As the private partners with the government ensuring efficient redemption of SNAP benefits, retailers are looking to the administration to reduce red tape and regulations, not increase them with proposals such as this one.”


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