Policy-Relevant Research from USDA’s Economic Research Service Enhanced America’s Understanding of Agriculture and Food Issues in 2017

Contact: Jennifer Smits
202-694-5604 or 202-694-5139

WASHINGTON, Dec. 21, 2017 - The USDA’s Economic Research Service produced key research in 2017 on topics ranging from socioeconomic trends in rural America to the economic effects of food labels, enhancing the public’s understanding of agriculture and food issues that affect Americans’ daily lives.

Research produced by ERS this year included work in the following areas:

Providing Americans access to a safe, nutritious and secure food supply

  • A report on food labels found that mandatory label standards produced labels that most consumers treat as credible and truthful (such as the Nutrition Facts label), while voluntary label standards can have limited credibility. Food labels have tradeoffs – Federally developed labels are costly in both money and time, and the resulting labels can still confuse some consumers. While some single-attribute labels, such as non-GMO (non-genetically modified organism) or Raised Without Antibiotics (RWA), may be easier for consumers to understand, the voluntary nature can limit their full credibility.  In the case of organic production, mandatory label standards led to the growth of a well-defined market.
  • A report on household food security in the U.S. showed that 87.7 percent of American households were food secure throughout the entire year in 2016, while 12.3 percent were food insecure at least some time during the year.
  • A report on child nutrition programs found that USDA school meal programs generally reduce food insecurity and contribute to improved diet quality and academic performance for children from low-income and food-insecure households. Among households with children and incomes below the Federal poverty line during the 2-year period 2014-15, 44 percent experienced food insecurity and 23 percent experienced food insecurity among children.

Facilitating rural prosperity and economic development

  • The annual Rural America at a Glance report showed signs that rural employment has been increasing modestly and median incomes are now rising, while rural population declines are showing signs of recovery - especially in tourism-destination areas.
  • A report on the potential effects of increased demand for U.S. agricultural exports found that a 10-percent increase in demand would increase total employment in all sectors of the U.S. economy by about 41,500 jobs.  These jobs would be above and beyond the approximately 1.1 million jobs currently supported by U.S. agricultural exports.
  • ERS’ Rural Manufacturing at a Glance report found that manufacturing jobs in 2015 represented 14 percent of rural private nonfarm jobs and 21 percent of rural private nonfarm earnings. The report identified food manufacturing as the largest subsector of rural manufacturing, accounting for over 18 percent of rural manufacturing employment in 2015.

Strengthening the stewardship of private lands

  • A report on conservation compliance looked at the effects of tying eligibility for most Federal farm program benefits to soil and wetland conservation. It found conservation compliance is effective when farm program benefits that could be lost due to noncompliance exceed the cost of meeting soil and wetland conservation requirements.

In addition to these reports, ERS has many other resources for learning more about food and agriculture, including ERS’s online magazine, Amber Waves, and daily Charts of Note, highlighting timely research.  All are available on the ERS website, www.ers.usda.gov.