Merrigan, deputy secretary of agriculture, believes she can play the role of a myth buster when it comes to policymaker and consumer perceptions that fruits and vegetables are too expensive.
“I’ve been really on a campaign as deputy and as a promoter of fruits and vegetables to get out the word that it is not too expensive to eat healthy,” she said.
Merrigan said she often mentions in interviews that she shops on the perimeter of supermarkets, to the displeasure of her colleagues in the processed food industry.
“But that’s where I spend the majority of my food dollar, and it is a very good value nutritionally,” she said. “So we are trying to get that word out the best way we can.”
Merrigan said there is “very ingrained thinking” that increasing fruit and vegetable consumption costs more money.
When food policy is being discussed in Washington, she said that issue is often the objection raised when efforts are put forward to promote increased fruit and vegetable consumption.
“People say, ‘Oh what is going to be the attendant costs?’” Merrigan said.
Consumers also have that perception, she said.
“We are really trying to get the message out, and we are talking numbers, because it is a real challenge,” she said.
Industry-friendly remarks by Merrigan, who also has been quoted supporting increased fruit and vegetable consumption in media reports about the Environmental Working Groups’ Dirty Dozen list of produce with pesticide residues, haven’t gone unnoticed by industry leaders.
Members of the Newark, Del.-based Produce Marketing Association’s government affairs staff met with Merrigan on June 22.
Means“We wanted to thank her for her support of the produce industry, and in particular her efforts at debunking the idea that fresh produce is too expensive,” said Kathy Means, vice president of government relations and public relations for PMA.
Means said Merrigan recently appeared on CNN talking about the affordability of fruits and vegetables, citing both USDA and PMA studies that found consumers could eat recommended levels of fruits and vegetable for less than $2.50 per day.
Much work has to be done to change consumer perceptions, Means said. A recent PMA survey indicated 55% of consumers believe expense is a barrier to more fruit and vegetable consumption, she said.