Processors elbowing in on the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program - The Packer

Processors elbowing in on the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program

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

Tom KarstIn a news release about the “alphabet soup of wins and losses for nutrition” in the farm bill, American Heart Association chief executive officer Nancy Brown issued a statement about the various ups and downs of the legislation.

Brown gave a thumbs up to multiple provisions in the bill that promote healthy food consumption. But the American Health Association executive was not at all pleased with cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which she said will make it hard for some seniors and low income families with children to afford a healthy diet.

And then, somewhat surprisingly to me, she took direct aim at a tweak to the well-loved Fresh Fruit and Vegetable program.

Brown wrote:

“We are also troubled that the legislation creates a pilot within the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program that expands eligibility beyond fresh produce to canned, frozen and dried options. While the association believes that all whole fruits and vegetables regardless of their form are important for kids to eat, the current program plays a unique role by providing the poorest children in our country with much-needed exposure to fresh fruits and vegetables. We will closely monitor this pilot effort to ensure that it does not undermine the impact and integrity of this nutrition education program.”

Ms. Brown, I couldn’t agree with you more. Indeed, why gum up the machinery of the well-tuned Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program? Lobbyists for marketers of canned, frozen and dried fruits and vegetables are no doubt rejoicing with the approval of this stealthy pilot program.

Importantly, the farm bill (Section 4214 if you are scoring at home) maintains the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program authorization and baseline funding at $150 million per year. The new pilot program will be a one-year evaluation (established by USDA) for schools in at least five states that may offer canned, frozen, and dried, along with fresh fruits and vegetables as part of the program. Lawmakers set aside a sum of $5 million to evaluate the success of the pilot and deliver a report to Congress by Jan. 1 of 2015.

That doesn’t sound so bad, does it? A tiny little pilot program to appease processors and their lobbyists who have been hell-bent to elbow into the program. Except processors don’t see it as a token measure.

One dispiriting news release from the American Frozen Food Institute, McLean, VA., was headlined “AFFI Lauds Final Passage of Farm Bill Adding Frozen Fruits and Vegetables into Popular School Snack Program,” frozen industry leaders sounded as if long-suffering children were at last rewarded with the prospect of consuming nutritionally superior frozen fruits and vegetables.

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