With the House farm bill already containing a provision that would open up the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program to all forms (canned, frozen, dried), the Senate will reportedly consider a similar amendment from Republican Sen. Ron Johnson from Wisconsin.
The American Frozen Food Institute sees their incursion into the fresh program as well-deserved, of course. From their release about the House Farm bill, their chief Kraig Naasz talks about both the (Fresh) Fruit and Vegetable Program and the nationwide expansion of “flex” acreage:
McLean, VA – American Frozen Food Institute (AFFI) President and CEO Kraig R. Naasz today commended the House Agriculture Committee for approving a new Farm Bill that enhances the ability of elementary school nutritionists to serve a wider range of healthy fruit and vegetable snacks.
The Farm Bill approved by the committee sets federal nutrition and agriculture policy for the next five years and expands the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Fruit and Vegetable Program to allow schools to serve all forms of fruit and vegetables—including frozen—as snacks. Under current law, schools are restricted in what they can serve to only fresh produce.
“AFFI applauds the House Agriculture Committee for approving this much-needed expansion of USDA’s Fruit and Vegetable Program. Expanding this program to include all forms of fruits and vegetables—including frozen—will enable school nutritionists to serve the widest possible variety of healthy and affordable fruits and vegetables throughout the entire school year.
“We look forward to working with school nutritionists and other stakeholders to ensure this expanded program is approved by Congress and signed into law by President Obama, which will help USDA meet its Dietary Guidelines for Americans that encourage the consumption of frozen fruits and vegetables.”
AFFI also commends the House and Senate Agricultural Committees for agreeing to extend the Farm Flex planting program nationwide, thereby allowing fruit and vegetable growers to plant their crops on federal program acres. Extending this program, first piloted under the 2008 Farm Bill, will provide producers with greater flexibility to help meet the increased demand for U.S. grown fruits and vegetables.
One hopes that fresh produce lobbyists can hold off the Senate amendment and preserve the fresh-only status of the program when the House and Senate farm bills go to conference.
After all, the USDA’s evaluation of the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program says processed fruits and vegetables were never part of the plan.
From that report:
The stated intent of FFVP is to provide children with free fresh fruits and vegetables. Program funds may not be used to purchase: 1) other non-fruit or vegetable products, such as nuts or cottage cheese;2) products like trail mix, fruit or vegetable pizza, or smoothies in which fruits or vegetables are commingled with other types of foods; 3) processed/prepared fruit and vegetable products such as canned, frozen, dried, or vacuum-packed fruits and vegetables, fruit leather or jellies, or fruit with added flavorings; or 4) fruit or vegetable juices. Dips for fruits are not permitted under FFVP requirements, but small amounts of low fat dips for vegetables are acceptable. Schools may serve cooked vegetables once per week, but only as part of a nutrition education lesson (USDA, 2010).
Schools are explicitly encouraged to distribute a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, including new and unusual fruits and vegetables to which students might not otherwise be exposed. Finally, fruits and vegetables are to be prepared and presented in a way that maximizes convenience and appeal whenever possible. This may include preslicing or cutting fruits or vegetables to make them easier for students to eat (USDA, 2010).
Does the program work? The USDA says:
The analysis found strong evidence that fruit and vegetable consumption was higher among students in FFVP schools. Students in FFVP schools consumed approximately one-third of a cup (0.32 cups) more fruits and vegetables on FFVP days than students in comparable schools not participating in the program (Exhibit ES.1). FFVP appears to have been especially effective in improving fruit consumption, with approximately a quarter cup (0.26 cups) of the total impact on fruit and vegetable intake coming from fruits.
To sum up, the stated intent of the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program is to provide children with free fresh fruits and vegetables, and the program is working as it is to increase fruit and vegetable consumption. Could that be any more clear? Leave more than well enough alone, and leave the canned cream corn on the shelf.