National and local health groups have sent an August 1, 2013, letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack, urging the agency to allow demonstration projects “designed to promote healthier food and beverage purchases” under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Organizations such as the American Heart Association, American Medical Association and Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) have asked USDA to approve SNAP pilot projects as part of an effort to provide the agency and Congress with the data needed “to make an informed decision concerning ways to improve the nutritional quality of purchases through the SNAP program.” According to a concurrent CSPI press release, these projects “might include curbs on purchases of soda and other sugar drinks or unhealthful foods.”

“Most Americans’ diets, including the diets of low-income folks served by SNAP, are overflowing with soft drinks and woefully deficient in whole grains and produce,” said CSPI Executive Director Michael Jacobson, who noted that SNAP funds cannot be spent on tobacco or alcohol. “It just doesn’t make sense to have the federal government subsidize the purchase of a product that causes so much disease.”

Meanwhile, a recent Slate article has noted that despite the efforts of consumer groups and legislators to limit the types of purchases permitted under SNAP, anti-hunger groups the Congressional Hunger Center (CHC), Food Research and Action Center and Share Our Strength have opposed these measures. Highlighting the rift between public health advocates and anti-hunger groups on this issue, the article reports that organizations such as CHC have recently come under fire for accepting donations from corporations even when those contributions have no strings attached. “At the Congressional Hunger Center, we do not accept funds that have any restrictions on them,” CHC Executive Director Ed Cooney was quoted as saying. See Slate.com, August 6, 2013.