Vilsack vows commitment to nutrition programs - The Packer

Vilsack vows commitment to nutrition programs

04/08/2009 12:00:00 AM
Tom Karst

Patrick Webb (from left), dean for academic affairs at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, Boston, Mass., visits with Nina Schlossman, president of the Global Food and Nutrition Inc., Washington, D.C., and Patrick Kole, vice president of legal and governmental affairs with the Idaho Potato Commission, Eagle, on April 7 at the International Food Aid Conference in Kansas City, Mo.

Tom Karst

(April 8, 10:02 a.m.) Kansas City, MO. – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the Obama Administration is committed to expanding its focus on nutrition programs and local food production.

Vilsack said the Obama administration’s stimulus plan provides $20 billion in additional resources for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program — food stamps — which translates to an extra $65 to $100 a month for households receiving benefits.

After speaking at the International Food Aid Conference April 7, The Packer asked Vilsack whether the federal government needed to create more incentives to boost fruit and vegetable consumption by program participants.

He said the stimulus package allows people to buy more fruits and vegetables and other food, driving more than $9 of economic activity with every $5 spent. Vilsack said the agency is focusing on nutrition in its near-term agenda.

“We will be making a major effort this year to discuss the need for more nutrition in people’s diet, particularly focusing on children,” he said.

He said reauthorization of the school lunch and breakfast programs provides a great opportunity to send that message, noting that President Obama’s budget calls for an additional $1 billion for those programs. He said the budget also reallocates other money to allow schools to purchase more fruits and vegetables.

Vilsack said the Obama administration embraces local food.

“We want folks to know their food and to know their farmers,” he said. “To be able to do that, we’re looking at creative ways to partners with farmers markets to promote local production.”

For example, he said there are a number of communities that are experimenting with providing benefit discounts with the purchase of fruits and vegetables at farmers markets.

What’s more, he said the agency is looking at creating small enterprise loan and grant programs to help local growers consolidate supplies and potentially build distribution centers to pool their crops to meet the needs of larger customers.

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