The Senate Agriculture Committee is poised to move on the farm bill by late April, and a coalition of nutrition advocates is trying to keep nutrition priorities squarely in their focus.

More than 85 public health groups have come together to fight for a set of nutrition priorities for the 2012 legislation, said Lorelei DiSogra, vice president of nutrition and health for the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association.

Nutrition groups work for farm bill prioritiesThe coalition sent a letter to lawmakers seeking support for key features of the farm bill nutrition title. She said members of the coalition, which includes United Fresh, Feeding America, the School Nutrition Association and scores of other organizations, have been meeting with lawmakers on the Senate Agriculture Committee to enlist their support. In the letter to lawmakers, the nutrition advocates said the farm bill must protect against hunger, improve nutrition and health outcomes among vulnerable populations and strengthen community-based programs that link farmers with consumers.

The group asked Congress to:

  • Protect the benefit levels of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program;
  • Provide a tax credit to growers to make it easier to donate to food banks;
  • Improve nutrition and health of needy populations by increasing fruit, vegetable consumption;
  • Maintain current funding for the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program;
  • Provide grants to SNAP, the food stamp program, to increase produce sales at farmers markets and healthy food retailers;
  • Strengthen SNAP vendor standards;
  • Continue funding for nutrition education; and
  • Provide farmers markets, farm stands, green carts and other nontraditional outlets technology to accept SNAP electronic benefit cards.

Stabenow, who DiSogra said has been a champion of the nutrition title in the farm bill, has said she would like to mark up the farm bill in the Senate Agriculture Committee by the end of April and perhaps on the floor of the Senate by Memorial Day (May 28).

“Right new we are very optimistic that the nutrition priorities will have wide support,” DiSogra said.

House action on the farm bill is less certain, but DiSogra said Senate supporters are hoping to enlist the support of at least 60 members to ensure passage.

“If the Senate can put the (farm bill) on the floor and pass it, it sends a strong message to the House,” DiSogra said.