(June 25) The pilot progam is now the permanent program.

Installing the fruit and vegetable pilot program as a part of federal nutrition policy, the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004 passed the Senate June 23 and the House June 24.

President Bush was expected to sign the bill by the end of June, said Derek Miller, legislative aide to Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa.

The newly minted law will fund the fruit and vegetable program at mandatory levels of $9 million year to pro-vide free fruits and vegetables to students in eight states and three Indian reservations. That doubles the size of the original program, which was authorized in the 2002 farm bill and funded with a one-time infusion of $6 million.

Beyond the fruit and vegetable program, the child nutrtition bill includes a provision for federal assistance for school gardens, based on a feature of the Specialty Crop Competitiveness Act of 2003.

The legislation also requires that school districts establish wellness policies, which will include goals for nutri-tion education and nutrition guidelines for all food sold in schools.

Funds for the school garden project will come from discretionary spending from the agricultural appropria-tions process, while the USDA will provide $4 million annually in technical assistant to school districts linked to the wellness policy provision.

Congressional action brought swift industry praise.

“We praise the Senate for their action and recognition of the importance and success or the original pilot pro-gram and the need to make this a permanent program,” Tom Stenzel, president of the United Fresh Fruit & Vege-table Association, Washington, D.C., said in a June 24 release.

The provision that allows for federal assistance for school gardens could be an important element in promoting fruits and vegetables in diets and enhancing the image of farmers among school children, said Tom Nassif, presi-dent of Irvine, Calif.-based Western Growers, in a June 24 release.

Western Growers Charitable Foundation has worked since January 2003 to start more than 90 school gardens in Arizona and California.

BILL BACKGROUND

The House unanimously passed the child nutrition bill June 24 that the Senate had unanimously agreed to the day before, allowing lawmakers to beat the June 30 deadline to reauthorize the programs.

Congress had previously passed a three-month extension after the five-year authority to operate the programs expired in March.

“This program will now enable more kids to benefit from this hugely successful program,” said Tracy Fox, con-sultant to the Produce for Better Health Foundation, Wilmington, Del.

Now that the program is permanent, it will serve as a foundation for future growth, she said.

In June 23 remarks to the Senate, Harkin noted the “unfortunate paradox” of malnutrition and hunger and obe-sity in the U.S.

Harkin said the child nutrition bill will ensure children who are receiving food stamps will automatically re-ceive school lunches and breakfasts as well and noted cost containment measures for the WIC program.

Regarding child nutrition and features of the legislation that fight obesity, Harkin said the bill works at im-proving the nutrition of food sold at schools.

He said less healthful vending machine and a la carte foods are undermining good nutrition for young people. Harkin said one study showed that when kids gained access to food other than through the school lunch program, they consumed 33% less fruit, 42% fewer vegetables and 35% less milk.

“The lack of fruits, vegetables and milk in our children’s diets has tremendous ramifications for the health of kids and adults,” he said.

While Harkin would prefer to regulate all food sold in schools throughout the day, he said the legislation does not go that far.

Since there was no conference committee on the House and Senate versions of the bill — staff from the two chambers conferred about the legislation before Senate passage to expedite the process — Harkin said it was his hope that the USDA will agree to add the states of Mississippi, North Dakota and South Dakota. He did not spec-ify the fourth state or the location of the Indian reservations.

The original states participating in the pilot program were Indiana, Iowa, Ohio and Michigan plus an Indian reservation in New Mexico.

Congress funds produce pilot program
“The lack of fruits, vegetables and milk in our children’s diets has tremendous ramifications for the health of kids and adults.,” says Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa.