The effort by Congress to pass the farm bill focused in large measure on the difficulty among lawmakers to agree how much to cut funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Finally, Congress did manage to get past that hurdle, and that is good news for the produce industry.

One fairly minor provision in the farm bill is the Healthy Incentives Program, a program to establish “incentives grants” for projects that give SNAP participants incentive to buy fruits and vegetables.

There is much to like about it, but the incentive program only allows for a maximum of a 50% federal share of the incentive.

But one red flag is this: the farm bill language says grants made available under the program shall not be used to carry out any project that limits the use of benefits under the 2008 farm bill or any other federal nutrition law.

In other words, states can use these incentive funds to encourage SNAP recipients to eat more fruits and vegetables — by doubling their buying power, for example — but they can’t even think about restricting sales of candy or pop.

That’s unfortunate.

The goal of federal policy should work toward a reality when food stamp purchases align with dietary guidelines for Americans.

Both the carrot and the stick may be necessary to help reduce obesity and improve well-being. Providing incentives to consumers to purchase more fruits and vegetables is the much-needed carrot. States also should at least have the option to explore how a stick may be wielded to limit demand for nutritionally worthless foods by SNAP recipients.

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