Trump administration proposes classifying spray cheese as a staple food variety under SNAP program

Tell the FDA to Make Food Labels Clearer

Canned spray cheese, pimiento-stuffed olives, maraschino cherries, and beef jerky should not count as “staple foods” under proposed Trump administration rules for stocking requirements for retail food stores that participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, according to comments filed today by the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

The 2014 Farm Bill directed the U.S. Department of Agriculture to strengthen stocking standards for participating retailers. The intent of that law was to give SNAP recipients access to a wider variety of healthy staple foods in the categories of dairy, fruit or vegetable, grains, and meat. USDA’s proposed rule, issued by the agency’s Food and Nutrition Service, would dilute the meaning of “variety,” undermining the 2014 law. The proposed changes would be of particular benefit to retailers that aren’t full grocery stores, such as convenience, dollar, and liquor stores.

“Lower income Americans are more likely to rely on convenience and dollar stores for food,” said CSPI vice president for nutrition Margo G. Wootan. “USDA should be ensuring that SNAP-participating retailers stock a meaningful variety of staple foods, allowing a family to shop in their own neighborhoods for real food that they can make into meals. They shouldn’t be incentivizing retailers to stock foods that actively promote diet-related disease, like Cheez Whiz, Slim Jims, or SPAM. Maraschino cherries—a cocktail garnish, of all things—shouldn’t count as a fruit any more than ketchup should count as a vegetable. Canned spray cheese and dried meat are snacks and should not be designated as discrete varieties of staple foods.”

2016 Obama-era regulations—which have never gone into effect due to congressional appropriations riders—also inappropriately counted beef jerky as a staple food. “The Trump rule would be even worse, creating distinct varieties for dried beef and processed cheese products,” said Wootan.

The proposed rule comes in the wake of a landmark study published in the journal Cell Metabolism establishing that diets high in highly processed foods lead to greater weight gain compared to a diet of fresh fruits, vegetables, and other unprocessed foods.