Farm Bill drops language to allow vitamin, mineral supplement purchase using SNAP

By Adi Menayang

- Last updated on GMT

Getty Images / Tanarch
Getty Images / Tanarch
The latest iteration of the Farm Bill, which passed both house and senate and is headed to President Trump’s desk today, dropped a provision that would have allowed SNAP recipients to use their benefits to purchase multivitamin and mineral supplements.

It has been a long and arduous trek for the 2018 Farm Bill, which is renewed every five years. An earlier iteration of the Bill, which passed the House this summer, included language​ from the SNAP Vitamin and Mineral Improvement Act of 2017, which would have allowed SNAP participants to purchase multivitamin and mineral supplements using their benefits.

But the bill went through many re-writes as Democrats and Republicans in both the House and Senate struggled to find common ground, mainly regarding work requirements to be eligible for SNAP. The final version making its way to the President’s desk today axed these tighter work requirements​.

In the process, provisions to make multivitamins and minerals eligible for purchase using SNAP was axed too, despite heavy lobbying from dietary supplement trade groups for the past few years.

Loren Israelsen, president of the trade group United Natural Products Alliance (UNPA), wrote to its members “we note with some sadness the elimination of the House [multivitamin and mineral] provisions, truly a frustrating outcome given the level of activity the industry undertook to win its inclusion.”

“This came despite the efforts of industry advocates Senators Hatch and Scott. We will be working with the other trade associations on a go-forward plan to see if there are viable alternatives for making this important change to the SNAP program.”

A casualty of the partisan fight

According to Dr. Daniel Fabricant, PhD, president and CEO of the Natural Products Association, SNAP reform was a messy topic to begin with, and the provision was dropped because it wasn’t a big enough issue in comparison to crop insurance and some of the other provisions that were passed.”

He regretted losing the chance to ‘get the foot in the door’ by going down a path proposed in conference, which was a pilot project for multivitamins and SNAP in five states. “Other trade associations fell in love with their language and were intent on sticking to the original language from the bill,” ​he told NutraIngredients-USA.

“They lost the industry the opportunity to get a pilot program which is a whole lot better than the nothing we have now.”

Steve Mister, president and CEO of the Council for Responsible Nutrition, another trade group that lobbied for the eligibility of multivitamin purchase in SNAP, disagreed with Dr. Fabricant's account.

"It’s simply a misunderstanding of what really happened in the halls of Congress,"​ he said. According to Mister, the multivitamin provision, which went under the Bill's Nutrition title, was a bipartisan effort. But when Republicans introduced provisions under this same title that would put in place work requirements for low-income Americans to be eligible for SNAP, it immediately made the legislation "very partisan."

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"The Democrats as a block decided that they would not support any changes to the SNAP program this year as a way to fend off those Republican proposals to add additional barriers to people’s ability to get SNAP,"​ Mister said.

"Our provisional multivitamin got caught up in that, even though many of them agreed with us and said ‘this is a no-brainer, of course low-income America should have access to a multivitamin.’"

When it came down to whether or not the Democrats would be willing to open the nutrition title to make any changes, including adding in the multivitamin provision, Mister said they decided they would not allow changes.

Aiming for WIC, state level waivers

For NPA's Fabricant, the next step is to look for strong Senate champions in the four years before the Farm Bill gets reauthorized.

“The senate usually dictates the terms in the Farm Bill,”​ he said. “The good news is that if the industry really wants to help those less fortunate, it’s time for the whole industry to get behind changing WIC [Women, Infants, and Children] to add multivitamins and minerals, which can happen every congress. We had a bill on that this past congress and look forward to getting it reintroduced.”

For CRN's Mister, the next step is at state level. "There is already a bill in New York that we have been supporting that, if the Governor signs it, would allow New York to seek a waiver to the Federal process so New York can try out a pilot project in that state, allowing recipients of SNAP in New York to use it for a multivitamin,"​ he said.

"This provision was never about increasing multivitamin sales. This effort was a fight to make better nutrition through the multivitamin more accessible to the people who need it the most,"​ Mister added.

"Because the data show that low-income America disproportionately is malnourished. This is an issue that is much bigger than the industry and we feel a certain stewardship to continue this effort, because we believe so strongly that the multivitamin offers the potential to close those nutrient gaps."

Original language of the multivitamin provision

An earlier version of the Farm Bill had amended languagein Title IV, under ‘Nutrition,’ in HR 2​​, which stated that that multivitamin-mineral dietary supplements, referred to as “multivitamin-mineral supplement for home consumption,”​ will be eligible for purchase with SNAP.

It defines a multivitamin-mineral dietary supplement as one that “provides at least half of the vitamins and minerals for which the National Academy of Medicine establishes dietary reference intakes, at 50 percent or more of the daily value for the intended life stage per daily serving as determined by the Food and Drug Administration.”​​

It also specified that a product is eligible if it “does not exceed the tolerable upper intake levels for those nutrients for which an established tolerable upper intake level is determined by the National Academy of Medicine.”​​

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