(July 1) No more a one-year pilot, the fruit and vegetable program is now law of the land.
President Bush signed the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004 on June 30, and in so doing he provided the fruit and vegetable program with $9 million a year in mandatory funding.

The bill will allow the fruit and vegetable program to be expanded to 25 schools in each of eight states and to additional schools on three Indian reservations.

The pilot fruit and vegetable program was initially authorized by the 2002 farm bill for one year. At the time, it was funded at $6 million to provide free produce to students in 25 schools in each of four states and one Indian reservation.

Tom Stenzel, president of the United Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Association, Washington, D.C., said hard work to boost the profile of the program paid off.

“We praise the president for recognizing the importance of providing healthy, fresh fruits and vegetables to our nation’s schoolchildren and for acknowledging the need to make this a permanent program,” Stenzel said in a July 1 release.

Robert Guenther, United’s vice president of government affairs, said there is more work to be done.

“It is our ultimate goal to have the program in all 50 states, and the language is in place for continued expansion and getting additional funds for additional states through the appropriation process," he said.

Elizabeth Pivonka, president of the Produce for Better Health Foundation, Wilmington, Del., praised the work of United and public health professionals in the effort and said PBH will continue to work the issue in coming months.

“This is just the beginning,” she said, noting the need to help the additional states succeed with the program and then work to bump up the number of states participating in the next round of appropriations.

The new states that will participate in the program haven’t been identified, though Mississippi, North Dakota and South Dakota have been floated as candidates by Senate advocates.

The original group was Ohio, Indiana, Iowa and Michigan and an Indian reservation in New Mexico.

Meanwhile, Keira Franz, United’s director of legislative affairs, said the bill addresses the fruit and vegetable component of the Women, Infants and Children food package.

She said Congress directed the U.S. Department of Agriculture to move quickly on reformulating the WIC food package when the agency receives the Institute of Medicine’s study on the issue. The bill also provides for a school garden program.

Meanwhile, Guenther said other legislative priorities in the coming weeks will be the AgJobs bill, country-of-origin labeling and potential food safety legislation.