Food Surveillance is Not Welfare Reform

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No Food Surveillance in the Next Congress

 By Jerry Rogers

After the National Security Agency (NSA), Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and Department of Justice (DOJ) scandals, polls show little support for expanding government surveillance.

However, some in Congress – looking ahead to 2015 – support the scheme of a food surveillance program run out of the Department of Agriculture.

Just last year, Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA) introduced an amendment to the Farm Bill requiring food surveillance in the Supplement Nutrition Assistance Program  (SNAP). The legislation would have mandated that retail food stores collect, and report to the Secretary of Agriculture, detailed information that identifies food items purchased with benefits provided under the supplemental nutrition assistance program. Big Brother watching what we purchase at the grocery story.

SNAP food surveillance would be an enormous, governmental undertaking with far reaching implications for all Americans, not just SNAP recipients. How much would mandated surveillance cost supermarkets? How will store clerks distinguish between food purchased through SNAP or with cash? Why should we trust that the surveillance would not spread to all food purchased by all Americans?

Thankfully, the Republican majority rejected the Marino proposal, but some Members want to revisit the idea in the next Congress.

Whether it’s under the guise of entitlement reform or public health, some politicians may favor food monitoring and restrictions because it’s an easy way to show voters that they’re being good stewards of taxpayer money. On the contrary, food restrictions in SNAP will create a food code mimicking the complexity of the IRS tax code.

Government food surveillance will not make people healthier; it will not save taxpayer money; and it will not reform entitlements.

Food surveillance could have its start in SNAP, but will end up impacting all Americans.

Jerry Rogers is vice president at the Institute for Liberty and the founder of Capitol Allies, an independent, nonpartisan effort that promotes entrepreneurship, economic growth, and free enterprise.

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