Food policy affects what we eat - and the way we live - in many ways.
Millions of Americans depend on the food industry for their livelihood. Labor experts estimate that more than 16 million Americans work harvesting crops and fish, manufacturing food products and serving consumers in grocery stores and restaurants. Government standards help ensure that food and farm workers are safe and fairly compensated.
The FDA and USDA require that certain nutrition information be included on food packaging, including the Nutrition Facts Panel. FDA and FTC also set standards to ensure that food marketing is not misleading. USDA also provides nutrition information, including "My Plate."
FDA and USDA standards and inspections reduce the risk of food contamination. Every year, food tainted by bacteria and pathogens causes 3,000 deaths and millions of cases of food-borne illness. The EPA also sets limits for pesticide residues on foods, such as apples.
Food policies have been a major factor in the epidemic of obesity and other diet-related diseases through their impact on prices, food access and the information Americans get about their food. The more than one-third of Americans who are obese have higher rates of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and certain types of cancer. Many programs help reduce obesity, including the Prevention Fund in the Affordable Care Act.
Food and environmental policies can minimize the harmful effects of farm and food production on air and water quality, and they support farmers who take steps to reduce water and air pollution and preserve the soil. Since USDA created organic standards in 2002, organic food and farm production has expanded dramatically.
Lax federal policies allow food companies to use additives with little or no regulation. As a result, thousands of ingredients get added with no FDA review - or even knowledge. Many are chemicals that have been linked to human health problems.
Genetically Engineered Foods
USDA approves new genetically engineered crops, and FDA determines whether food labels must disclose the presence of genetically modified ingredients. Although more than 40 countries requiring labels on genetically engineered foods, FDA has so far declined to require labels on food with generically engineered ingredients.
More than 46 million Americans - about half of them children - rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to meet their daily nutrition needs. Hungry Americans can also get help from other programs administered by the USDA, such as the school lunch and school breakfast programs and federally supported food banks.
Lack of Access to Healthy Food
More than 20 million Americans simply do not have access to healthy food. Several federal programs and incentives work to bring more healthy foods to underserved communities and improve the nutritional choices in others.
The USDA helps to pay for and sets standards for food sold to students during the school day, and the agency purchases surplus commodities that are distributed across the nation. USDA also provides $11.1 billion annually to feed school children in more than 100,000 schools.
USDA provides billions of dollars in subsidies each year to predominantly large farms that grow a handful of crops, while doing comparatively little to help family farmers, organic producers and local and regional food systems. These subsidies help drive farmers' decisions on what crops to plant and how much to grow and ultimately help determine how much food and fiber cost in the marketplace. They also affect international trade and farmers overseas.
The federal government does not directly regulate prices, but many government policies directly or indirectly affect how much consumers end up paying for food. Price supports and guarantees for commodities such as sugar and dairy create a floor for prices, food-purchasing programs support prices and remove excess supply, and ethanol mandates contribute to rising commodity prices.