Fruit cocktail, mandarin oranges, peach slivers in syrup – these have all been school lunch staples for decades. One wouldn’t think there would be a food industry lobby to increase their visibility. Of course, one would be wrong. A small ten-year-old USDA program established to ensure the addition of fresh fruits and vegetables in school lunch programs is under attack by House representatives who argue that canned and frozen produce should also be part of the equation – you know, because they aren’t already common in school lunch programs.
RELATED STORIES FROM FOOD AND DRINK DIGITAL
- Animal Agriculture Alliance Cuts Ties with Bank of America
- General Mills Sued for Nature Valley All-Natural Claims
- Sysco Announces Departure From Gestation Crate System
- CLICK HERE TO READ THE LATEST EDITION OF FOOD & DRINK DIGITAL
According to the Washington Post, those advocating for an expansion of this program argue that since canned, dried, and frozen produce is less expensive than its fresh counterpart, adding those to the fresh produce program would be a teachable moment – and the scientific spokespeople lobbying behind the expansion should come as no surprise:
“If the goal is to expand and improve upon childhood nutrition, it doesn’t make sense to limit the kinds of fruits and vegetables that schools serve,” said Corey Henry, a spokesman for the American Frozen Food Institute, who argues that processed produce can be just as nutritious as fresh. “Let the schools decide.”
Coalitions representing firms that make processed, canned and frozen food said in a recent letter to the House Agriculture Committee that expanding the program “will teach kids how to get the most nutrition bang for their buck.”
The processed produce industry lobbying to include processed produce in a fresh produce program? You don’t say.
Expanding the fresh produce program is a suggestion that has reportedly put many factions at odds. In California, one of the three states who have signed on with the proposal, the California School Nutrition Association is supporting inclusion of processed fruits while the California Department of Education is rallying for preservation of the program as it already is:
The [California Department of Education] said kids have plenty of exposure to frozen, canned and dried produce in federally subsidized school meals. United Fresh Produce Association, a trade group that primarily represents fresh-produce firms, has made the same argument.
“We would prefer that the word ‘fresh’ remain the priority,” said Sandip Kaur, acting director of the nutrition services division at the Education Department. “It’s the ‘fresh’ that makes this program unique.”
Indeed, and it’s not because all fruits and vegetables are inherently less healthy once they’re not fresh – take simple flash-frozen fruits and vegetables, for example. It’s pretty much widely accepted that properly frozen produce can be just as nutritious and maybe even more so than “fresh” produce that’s bruised and aging.
But it should be clear that frozen whole fruits and veggies aren’t the primary concern here: no, that’s reserved for the more heavily processed and canned fruits. Considering that we live in a world where legislators have to put up a fight to have cheese pizza NOT classified as a vegetable, it’s not that crazy to think that lobbyists aren’t trying to equate the kinds of fruits that often come swimming in syrup (and these days it’s most likely high fructose corn syrup) with those that come straight off the tree or the vine. It’s that prospect that has school officials and health experts worried:
“We may see the floodgates open for perhaps less nutritious foods,” said Matthew Marsom, a vice president at the Public Health Institute, a nonprofit group dedicated to improving public health. “There’s nothing [in the House bill] that would stop fruit cups with syrup or frozen Tater Tots with sodium. You just don’t get those problems with fresh.”
It’s not that these products should be kept out of school lunch altogether – let’s face it, kids do love their mandarin oranges. But with ratcheted-up sugar and calorie content, they’re kind of exactly the opposite of what the fresh produce program is all about. They’re also already quite well represented in school lunch programs, as they have been since the dawn of time. Can both fresh produce and processed produce coexist in school nutrition planning? Of course they can, and have been. But hey, why not try to cut out competitors if you have the lobbying funds and the power, right?
[SOURCE: Washington Post]