Farm bill battle lines drawn on school snack programBattle lines are being drawn over the House Agriculture Committee’s farm bill, which would include dried, frozen, and canned fruits and vegetables in Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Snack Program.

A hearing on the bill is scheduled for 10 a.m. Eastern July 11.

A spokesman for the committee said a list of amendments to be considered during the hearing would not be available for public until the hearing begins, and some sources said the hearing could be extended to July 12.

“Stay tuned, there may be some fireworks,” said Robert Guenther, senior vice president of public policy for the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association. “There may be some interesting discussions during the markup about the snack program, much to the surprise of some of those who think this is a done deal.”

Guenther said fresh produce industry lobbyists may not put all their options on the table, but he promised that United Fresh would continue to fight against the expansion of the fruit and vegetable program.

While most of the House farm bill is positive for the fresh produce industry, Guenther said the sticking point is the major change proposed for the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Snack Program, which has grown from $6 million pilot in four states in the 2002 farm bill, to a $150-million all-fresh produce program in all states.

“The Farm Bill Alliance, United, others have expressed their concerns about this (expansion) to the committee,” he said. Guenther said United Fresh will support the Senate’s proposed farm bill, which keeps the program limited to fresh fruits and vegetables.

The Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance originally recommended to lawmakers that dried fruit be included in the program — it was also included in the 2002 pilot program — but Guenther said recent shifting positions may have changed that sentiment.

“We’ll see where everybody draws their battle lines at the end of the day.”

Corey Henry, vice president of communications for the McLean,Va.-based American Frozen Food Institute, said the group is working with allies on the issue.

“We’re confident we have a very good group of supporters to go to bat to expand the program, who recognize the health benefits and the economic benefits schools could gain from that provision.” Henry said.

A coalition of more than 50 organizations, including school nutrition associations in New York, California and Texas, sent a letter July 10 to House Agriculture Committee leaders, supporting the expanded program.

“It only makes sense for a USDA-administered school snack program to follow the department’s own nutrition guidance and to assist children in seeing the value of consuming more fruits and vegetables in all healthy and nutritious forms,” according to the letter.

Dan Haley, Washington, D.C.-based lobbyist for processed and fresh fruit, vegetable and nut companies, said the change is supported by Democratic and Republican leaders of the House Education and Workforce Committee. The program is directed by the House Education and Workforce Committee, Haley said.

What’s more, Haley said expansion of the program makes political sense.

“The (farm bill) will be an uphill battle on the House floor and by expanding the program to all forms, you are bringing in more constituents that have a reason to support the bill,” he said.

Haley said it is very difficult to ask politicians to pick winners and losers, especially in an election year.

“That’s where I think the other side has a problem,” he said.

Haley predicted the provision to expand will not be amended in the July 11 hearing.