Friday, October 28, 2005

Household food insecurity deteriorated in 2004 by a record amount

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported today that household food insecurity increased by a record amount in 2004, and now equals the worst levels since data collection began. Household food insecurity improved from 1995 until 1999, and then worsened steadily every year from 1999 until 2004. USDA said today that 11.9 % of U.S. households were insecure in 2004, up from 11.2 % in 2003. This increase represents the largest one-year deterioration in U.S. food insecurity since data collection began in 1995.

USDA reported that 3.9 % of U.S. households experienced "food insecurity with hunger" in 2004, up from 3.5 % in 2003.

Household food insecurity is measured with a battery of 18 survey questions about symptoms of food-related hardship. According to the official definition, "food security" means access by all household members at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life. "Food insecurity" means the household was not classified as food secure.

In the Fall of 2004, the Bush administration delayed release of food insecurity numbers from October until after the election in November. In this Friedman School policy point last October, I tried to press USDA to make the results public before the election, but with no success. This year, the statistics were released in October as scheduled.

The 37 references in today's USDA report do not include this 2002 USDA report about progress toward the official federal target of 6 percent food insecurity by the year 2010. The omitted 2002 report described the solemn commitment the United States made to improve food security:
At the World Food Summit in 1996, the United States, along with 185 other countries, adopted the “Rome Declaration,” which begins with this commitment:

"We pledge our political will and our common and national commitment to achieving food security for all and to an ongoing effort to eradicate hunger in all countries, with an immediate view to reducing the number of undernourished people to half their present level no later than 2015."
Here below is a chart showing how today's new statistics compare to the federal government's official goals, as expressed in the "Rome Declaration," the Healthy People 2010 objectives, and USDA's strategic goals.

Moving in the WRONG Direction:
Household Food Insecurity Deteriorates
Faster than Ever

The top line shows actual rates of household food insecurity, and the bottom line reproduces the trend line contained in the 2002 USDA report describing intended progress toward the national goals. Because the .jpg image did not work so well, here is a better Acrobat version of the same image.

For more information on how household food security measurement can be used by federal policy makers, see my report to a panel of the National Academies last summer. For information on food stamps and food security, see this conference paper, published in the Review of Agricultural Economics, which I wrote in collaboration with Mark Nord, the lead author of today's USDA report.

Update: I think this story may be a U.S. Food Policy scoop. It does not appear to be on the wires yet. But this AP story was posted to the Fox website a couple hours ago -- the Agriculture Committee in the Republican controlled House of Representatives apparently is considering a cut in food stamps today.

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