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Frozen Food in Schools: A Slippery Slope?

August 7, 2012

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If there's one thing IIN can stand behind, it's a healthy school food initiative, and we love when an initiative is resolutely protected by members of Congress.

The Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Snack Program is a small, but valuable initiative which supplies federal funding to elementary schools in lower-income neighborhoods for the purchase of fresh produce. The $150 million allotted annually to the program provides a healthy snack for three million children a day, but according to The Washington Post, the House of Representatives is looking to make some alterations to the food offerings - alterations the Senate is not happy about.

New amendments to the legislation, proposed by the House, would expand the program to allow schools to use the funding for frozen or canned produce.

Canned and frozen produce are not inherently problematic, but the initiative's author, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), fears their inclusion could hurt the integrity of the program. Since the schools, themselves, are responsible for the purchase of the snacks, removing the fresh produce restriction might inadvertently fund less healthful options for children.

"There's nothing [in the House bill] that would stop fruit cups with syrup or frozen Tater Tots with sodium," said Matthew Marsom, a vice president at the Public Health Institute. "You just don't get those problems with fresh."

Previously, the program, launched in 2002, included funding for a limited amount of dried fruit, but that funding was repealed in 2008 after the discovery that schools were providing trail mix. Harkin fears similar unhealthy snacks could be justified if canned or frozen produce were allowed.

Corey Henry, a spokesman for the American Frozen Food Institute, supports the change to the initiative, arguing that schools should get to decide what type of fruits and vegetables they want to purchase.

Despite lobbying efforts, we are pleased to see Senator Harkin is sticking to his guns, but the dried, frozen, and canned food supporters are not backing down. Senator Harkin says he has even received requests to add beef jerky to the program!

"Every day we spend in countless debates about pistachios or Craisins is a day we don't spend fighting for why the fresh fruit and vegetable program should be expanded and protected," Harkin said.

Four years ago, the initiative came under the umbrella of the 2008 US Farm Bill - legislation set to expire on September 30. The debate over whether to include frozen or canned food will certainly be one more item to keep an eye on as Congress moves towards a new farm bill vote.

Do you think the new farm bill should include provisions for frozen and canned food under the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Snack Program?