Policy

Frozen, Canned Fruit Could Become Norm for Fresh Produce Program

Measure to ease restrictions on processed goods included in House farm bill

Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-Maine, is championing a proposal in the new House farm bill that would include frozen and canned fruit in the federal Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

As the House GOP wrestles with whether to overhaul the food stamp program and tie it to work in the new farm bill that passed the Agriculture Committee in April, other small changes to the previous law stand out that could markedly affect longstanding federal nutrition programs.

Some lawmakers want to add frozen, canned, pureed and dried produce to the menus of the U.S. Agriculture Department’s Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program for schoolchildren.

It’s a proposal Maine GOP Rep. Bruce Poliquin says will help American children “be able to eat healthy all year round with nutritious products from across the country,” according to The Associated Press.

Adding packaged and processed fruits and vegetables to the fresh produce snack program is not only “a huge win for our school children,” Poliquin said, but would enlarge the consumer market for blueberry farmers in Maine and other produce industries.

Some Democrats are already pushing back on the proposal to open the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, which grants public schools money to purchase fresh produce to provide as snacks for its students free of charge, to more processed goods.

“Once you start whittling away at it, it’s no longer a Fresh Fruit and Vegetable program,” former Iowa Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin, who initiated the program in 2002, told the AP.

Harkin is dubious of frozen fruits and vegetables because of the sugar and chemicals added to keep them from rotting too quickly. It’d be better to skip freezing and packaging blueberries and instead send fresh bushels straight to the schools, he said.

“People have wanted to include peanuts and trail mix and God knows what else,” Harkin said. “Now this guy from Maine wants frozen or canned blueberries.”

There is no set timetable for a vote on the farm bill, but House Republicans have said they have the votes and plan to proceed without Democratic support.

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