(UPDATED COVERAGE, July 12) The fight to keep the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program exclusively for fresh produce isn’t over yet.

In passing their version of the 2012 farm bill in a marathon session July 11, the House Agriculture Committee let stand a provision that expands the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program to also include frozen, dried and canned fruits and vegetables.

After the committee mark-up session that considered 100 amendments was finally over past midnight, the House Agriculture Committee approved the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2012 by a vote of 35-11.

Industry lobbyists said there was much good in the committee-approved version of the farm bill but said a major sore spot for fresh produce industry remains.

“We are happy with the broad bill and the funding levels included on key priorities,” said Robert Guenther, senior vice president of public policy for United Fresh Produce Association. “We continue to be disappointed that the committee has moved forward with the Fruit and Vegetable Program ‘all forms’ provision, and we are committed to working hard to get that addressed.”

Passed in late June, the Senate’s  version of the bill kept the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program fresh-only. If the House passes its version with an “all-forms” provision, the bills must be reconciled in conference committee.

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, said Corey Henry, vice president of communications for the McLean,Va.-based American Frozen Food Institute.

“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,” he added.

Tom O’Brien, Washington, D.C.-based representative for the Newark, Del.-based Produce Marketing Association, said PMA supports the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance position that dried fruit should be added to the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program.

Guenther said Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Calif., offered an amendment during the hearing to put “fresh” back in the title of the program. The amendment would have restored fresh fruits and vegetables only in the program, but the amendment was withdrawn after Rep. Reid Ribble, R-Wisc., objected to the amendment on procedural grounds. .

Guenther said Reps. Jim Costa, D-Calif., and Steve Sutherland, R-Fla., also supported the amendment and expressed concerns the committee had overreached on the issue of adding processed fruits and vegetables.

Mirroring similar language in the Senate farm bill, Cardoza offered an amendment that was approved by the committee  that directs the USDA to study the feasibility of food safety insurance that would cover producers’ losses resulting from recalls they did not cause.

Guenther said the House has a short window to pass the farm bill, with the House leadership expected to decide by late July whether to bring the bill to the floor for a vote.

Highlghts of House 2012 farm bill

  • Specialty crop block grants at $70 million per year.
  • Specialty crop research initiative at $25 million in fiscal 2013; $30 million 2014; $65 million in 2015; and $50 million in fiscal.
  • Plant pest and disease programs at $71.5 million starting in fiscal 2013. This is an increase over the Senate version.
  • Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program at 2008 farm bill levels.
  • Farmers’ Market and Local Food Promotion program.
  • Section 32 specialty crop purchases at 2008 farm bill levels.
  • Defense Department’s Fresh Program at 2008 farm bill levels.

       Source: United Fresh Produce Association