“We know this is an issue and that it is not founded in fact,” Means said.
Merrigan said she is pleased with public reception to the MyPlate icon. That icon, with its “half a plate” message, combined with increased funding for school lunches, the ongoing Let’s Move campaign and revised school nutrition guidelines, appear to set the stage for greater consumption of fruits and vegetables, she said.
“If there ever was ever a time for the produce industry to stand tall and move forward with their agenda, it is now,” Merrigan said.
Another misperception Merrigan involves the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Imitative.
In its June 16 passage of the 2012 agricultural appropriations bill, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives approved an amendment that prohibits funds from being used for the initiative.
Merrigan said that lawmakers shouldn’t find fault with what she called a management initiative.
“I was mystified by the debate on the House floor because clearly I need to message better on some of these management initiatives,” she said.
Merrigan said both the Healthy Food Financing Initiative — which has not yet been funded by Congress — and Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food are meant to cut across the department bureaucracy.
Merrigan said Know Your Farmer has no office, no full-time staff and no budget.
“It is about efficiencies and breaking down government silos,” she said.
For example, in school food procurement, three agencies can be involved in setting the rules and buying commodities.
Means said the industry believes the USDA’s initiative can be helpful as long as it does not promote one type of producer over another.
“It can’t make distinction of small versus big, or organic versus conventional,” Means said. “It is going to take everybody to get to half a plate.”