Making School Meals Great Again
By Denise Bode & Kevin Swanson
American Fruit & Vegetable Processors & Growers Coalition
Congress has been working on the 2018 Farm Bill, which will set the country’s agricultural and nutrition policy for the next five years under the purview of the United States Department of Agriculture. Since the Great Depression of the 1930’s when Congress began passing legislation governing farm policy, the Farm Bill has served as the principal law guiding national farm and food policy. Over a ten year period the farm bill will spend close to $900 billion dollars and traditionally 80% of those dollars have been allocated to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP. As such, decisions about how and what to spend these funds on are included in the bill. Given the size and breadth of the Farm Bill, industry groups participate in the legislative process to advance their specific policy objectives.
The American Fruit & Vegetable Processors & Growers Coalition (AFVPGC) represents the nation’s farmers and processors of fruits and vegetables. A central tenet to the AGVPGC’s advocacy has been for the fair and equal treatment of all forms of fruits and vegetables despite their physical state and level of processing. This view is consistent with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and ensuring that federal nutrition policy recognizes that processed fruits and vegetables are equally nutritious to fresh fruits and vegetables is essential toward advancing a healthy diet.
In late June, the House and Senate passed their respective versions of the 2018 Farm Bill. Since then, conferees have been named and negotiations are underway between the House and Senate to reconcile the bills for final passage of the conference report and the President’s signature. Throughout the entire Farm Bill process, (AFVPGC), of which the Canned Food Alliance actively participates, has been advocating for fair and equal access for all forms of fruits and vegetables (fresh, frozen, canned, dried and 100% juice) in government sponsored nutrition programs and policies governed by the Farm Bill that affect the entire supply chain for growers and canners.
At the heart of the differences between the House and Senate versions of the Farm Bill are the House’s changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The House chose to make changes to the SNAP program, while the Senate decided not to modify it. In general, the House version outlines more reforms across the nutrition, commodity and conservation titles.
With respect to the Farm Bill’s treatment of AFVPGC’s policy priorities, the House bill included AFVPGC supported legislation (The Fruit and Vegetables Access for Children Act (H.R. 3402 & S. 2064), which focused on equal access and eligibility for all forms of fruits and vegetable in the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP), which provides fruit and vegetable snacks to elementary school students.
The all forms request within the FFVP has been an ongoing effort to modify the program to include all forms (canned, frozen, dried, or pureed) fruits and vegetables. Since its inception in 2002 as a pilot program, the FFVP, which receives $150 million in mandatory annual funding, has mandated the use of fresh fruit and vegetables only. In the House version of the Farm Bill, AFVPGC successfully argued to open the program to all forms by championing local choice and the nutritional equivalency of fresh and all forms.
Because USDA’s 2015 Dietary Guidelines encourage the consumption of “all forms” of fruits and vegetables, this legislation is a step forward in removing USDA’s inconsistent eligibility standards for nutrition programs. AFVPGC’s believes allowing “all forms” in the program will allow more schools to participate due to the value proposition of “all forms,” and it will support the consumption of domestically produced fruits and vegetables. Moreover, it will ensure that children are not taught that certain forms of fruits or vegetables are superior to another, and that all forms of fruits and vegetables are nutritious.
In addition, the House and Senate bill positively addressed a technical fix to a commodity program issue to ensure that rotational fruit and vegetable growers are not penalized if and when a mandatory base acre update occurs. In addition, AFVPGC has worked to advocate that newly created nutrition programs or funding measures do not contain limiting language that deviates from the all forms standard.
Outside of the nutrition title the AFVPGC worked to include Fruit and Vegetable Planting Flexibility (Farm Flex) S. 2263 into the House and Senate Bill. The inclusion of this language will ensure if there is a mandatory base acre update, land under rotational fruit and vegetable production will not be left out of the base acre calculation. This language will ensure that land remains available for fruit & vegetable production across the upper Midwest which is critical for fruit and vegetable processors.
As the 2018 Farm Bill conference process continues into September, the AFVPGC will continue to work to ensure that all forms of fruits and vegetables remain eligible in government sponsored nutrition programs and to remove limiting language from policies and regulations.
We encourage you to support the Canned Food Alliance and other organizations that are working to advance the consumption of nutritious fruits and vegetables of all forms.
For more from the American Fruit & Vegetable Processors & Growers Coalition, visit their website www.americanfruitandvegetable.org.