Processors eye piece of produce program pie

02/07/2014 10:41:00 AM
Tom Karst

Frozen industry leaders sounded as if long-suffering children were at long last rewarded with the prospect of consuming nutritionally superior frozen fruits and vegetables.

What’s more, the idea by the frozen food folks is that this pilot will “enable Congress to consider the benefits of permanently expanding the USDA program to include all forms of fruits and vegetables — including frozen — during next year’s reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act.”

In other words, scoot over. We want our share.

Keep it fresh

It is too bad that the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program can’t remain unique. After all, USDA commodity purchases for school meals and other feeding programs are heavily skewed toward processed forms of fruits and vegetables.

In fiscal 2013, the USDA purchased only $3.7 million in fresh apples out of total apple product purchases of more than $61 million. Applesauce purchases were a whopping $34 million, and even frozen apple slices scored more than $6 million.

As the heart association’s Brown said, the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program gives our country’s poorest children much-needed exposure to fresh fruits and vegetables.

A fresh pear is a much different experience than a canned pear. A freshly peeled clementine evokes a different set of senses that tinned mandarin slices.

At the Washington Public Policy Conference in October 2011, Sen. Tom Harkin, author of the 2002 pilot Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, warned about the prospect of trying to expand the program to all forms.

“I can’t tell you how many times I have been lobbied to add dried fruits to the program, canned and frozen fruits to the program, frozen vegetables to the program,” he said. “Heck, one guy suggested we could add beef jerky to the program.”

“How about soybeans too?” Harkin asked.

Harkin prophetically predicted the program would soon be one commodity piled on top of another and soon it would no longer be the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, but rather a hodgepodge of competing interests.

“The basic thrust of this program was to provide free fresh fruits and vegetables to kids,” Harkin said then.

Robert Guenther, senior vice president for public policy for the United Fresh Produce Association, Washington, D.C., told me recently that United Fresh wants to make sure that the pilot’s evaluation ordered by lawmakers accurately reflects the impressions and best interests of kids.



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