Adding more fresh produce to U.S. government feeding programs is good for American consumers and the produce industry.

Unfortunately, the politics of government feeding programs puts the industry in a precarious spot.

It has to show that it’s eager to fulfill a larger share of benefits, as it should at the expense of less healthy food, but it has to be careful to not look needy and dependent.

In late July, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack talked about a new program from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, called the Healthy Incentives Pilot program, which showed that investing 15 cents per person per day can result in a 25% increase in consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables.

But then Vilsack used that good news to criticize Republicans in the House of Representatives for separating food stamps from the farm bill version it passed and threatening to cut benefits.

Congressional Republicans have a good point that spending on food stamps should be reduced (it’s doubled from $40 billion to $80 billion in the past five years), but Democrats’ angle, that it’s a bad time to cut food benefits during a slow economy, is valid as well.

The produce industry doesn’t need to and shouldn’t choose a side.

Vilsack does not endorse restricting the kinds of foods that food stamps can buy, saying it’s too complicated, but it’s an area the industry should continue to push.

If there are winners and losers in food, fresh fruits and vegetables should be proud to be on the winning side.

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