Please oppose a new House bill that puts corporate profits ahead of children’s health. Action Alert!
A 2002 federal program that delivers fresh fruits and vegetables to the country’s poorest schools is now at risk because of crony capitalism. Lobbyists from the frozen, fried, canned, and dried food industries are all jostling to have their products included in the government program, and their efforts are paying off. Reps. Bruce Poliquin (R-ME) and Kurt Schrader (D-OR) have recently introduced legislation that would broaden the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program to include frozen, canned, dried, and pureed fruits and vegetables.
The Big Food lobbies contend that the legislation should be rewritten to include “all forms” of fruits and vegetables, even including highly processed and fried foods. This kind of change would open the door to all kinds of absurdities that we’ve seen in the past, such as the attempt to define pizza as a vegetable. Big Food also influenced the decision to count French fries as a vegetable. Is this what we want for the country’s most vulnerable children?
Unlike many other school nutrition programs, the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, when it was initially introduced into the 2002 Farm Bill by former Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), specifically stipulated that the snacks contain only real fresh fruits and vegetables. Costing around $177 million each year, it is a relatively small part of $16 billion that the federal government spends on school meals, but an important area where junk food lobbies do not dominate the menu.
Unsurprisingly, the program was susceptible to crony influences from the moment it was created. For the first six years, dried fruit was allowed—a bit of pork carved out by a California congressman who had raisin interests in his district. This led schools to use the federal dollars to buy trail mix.
It’s an old story. We’ve reported on the flourishing crony influences on federal school meal programs a number of times over the years. When there are billions of dollars at stake, Big Food will almost always work its connections in agencies like the USDA to muscle its way onto the school lunch tray.
The result of all this, of course, is that our kids—in this particular case, kids in some of the poorest school districts in the country—are served low-quality, low-cost, highly processed junk food, courtesy of the federal government.
Action Alert! Write to your congressional representative and urge him or her to oppose HR 3532, the Fruit and Vegetable Access for Children Act, which would make school lunches and snacks significantly less healthy. Please send your message immediately.