Farm bill battle lines drawn on school snack program

07/10/2012 05:10:00 PM
Tom Karst

Battle lines are being drawn over the House Agriculture Committee’s farm bill, which would include dried, frozen, and canned fruits and vegetables in Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Snack Program.

A hearing on the bill is scheduled for 10 a.m. Eastern July 11.

A spokesman for the committee said a list of amendments to be considered during the hearing would not be available for public until the hearing begins, and some sources said the hearing could be extended to July 12.

“Stay tuned, there may be some fireworks,” said Robert Guenther, senior vice president of public policy for the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association. “There may be some interesting discussions during the markup about the snack program, much to the surprise of some of those who think this is a done deal.”

Guenther said fresh produce industry lobbyists may not put all their options on the table, but he promised that United Fresh would continue to fight against the expansion of the fruit and vegetable program.

While most of the House farm bill is positive for the fresh produce industry, Guenther said the sticking point is the major change proposed for the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Snack Program, which has grown from $6 million pilot in four states in the 2002 farm bill, to a $150-million all-fresh produce program in all states.

“The Farm Bill Alliance, United, others have expressed their concerns about this (expansion) to the committee,” he said. Guenther said United Fresh will support the Senate’s proposed farm bill, which keeps the program limited to fresh fruits and vegetables.

The Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance originally recommended to lawmakers that dried fruit be included in the program — it was also included in the 2002 pilot program — but Guenther said recent shifting positions may have changed that sentiment.

“We’ll see where everybody draws their battle lines at the end of the day.”

Corey Henry, vice president of communications for the McLean,Va.-based American Frozen Food Institute, said the group is working with allies on the issue.

“We’re confident we have a very good group of supporters to go to bat to expand the program, who recognize the health benefits and the economic benefits schools could gain from that provision.” Henry said.

A coalition of more than 50 organizations, including school nutrition associations in New York, California and Texas, sent a letter July 10 to House Agriculture Committee leaders, supporting the expanded program.

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