(Aug. 8, 2:05 p.m.) After the success from the recent farm bill reauthorization, members of the produce industry are again presenting a united front in lobbying for fresh fruits and vegetables in schools across the country.

During Aug. 6 listening sessions in Baltimore and San Francisco, grower-shippers, distributors and industry association leaders spoke in favor of including produce in child nutrition programs supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Those requests include expansion of produce purchases — including fresh-cut — and helping schools buy refrigeration units and salad bar equipment.

The programs would be funded through the 2009 Child Nutrition Reauthorization, reauthorized by Congress every five years.

At the San Francisco hearing, Mark Munger, vice president of marketing for Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce, San Diego, and chairman of the Produce for Better Health Foundation, said school meals fall far short of meeting minimum dietary recommendations for fruits and vegetables.

“Some of the statistics people gave in the hearing was staggering,” he said. “In some cases, children are eating USDA-funded breakfasts and lunches and are not getting any servings of fruits and vegetables on a given day. The potential for some change here is real.”

Michael Wootton, senior vice president of corporate relations and administration for Sunkist Growers Inc., Sherman Oaks, Calif., said the produce industry shares society’s interest in improving children’s diets.

“Our growers are particularly worried that if we do not get kids eating and enjoying fresh fruits and vegetables while they are young, we may lose them forever to less healthful dietary habits,” he told USDA officials.

During the Baltimore hearing, Harris Cutler, partner in and president of Philip G. Ball Co. and Race West Co., Clarks Summit, Pa., said the industry needs to be passionate about the programs.

“We need to do everything in our power to help people learn how to eat better and to help provide them the nutrients and the proper diet for good health,” Cutler said.

Cathleen Enright, vice president of federal government affairs for Western Growers, Irvine, Calif., testified in Baltimore.

“With the salad-bar type presentation of fresh-cut vegetables, baby carrots and sliced apples, that’s the way kids want to eat fresh fruits and vegetables,” she said after the hearing. “So let’s present them the way they’re going to eat them. We have to enable schools to be able to do that.”

Lorelei DiSogra, vice president of nutrition and health for the United Fresh Produce Association, Washington, D.C., said more produce leaders are needed to speak at USDA hearings scheduled for Sept. 10 in Chicago and Sept. 11 in Denver.

“This is really critical for the industry to engage in this process and weigh in,” she said. “But it won’t be easy. Childhood nutrition reauthorization is really the next huge legislative vehicle for us to improve fruit and vegetable consumption for kids.”