Rep. Sam Farr, D-Calif., scored some political points at a March 31 agricultural appropriations. I asked for Rep. Farr's office for background on the exchange, in which he pointed out to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack the lack of proportion of processed food purchases compared with fresh in nutrition programs. Specifically, $90 million on mozzarella cheese and $51,000 on fresh tomatoes. Here is coverage of the issue from the Watertown Daily Times and the following is an excerpt from the transcript.
FARR: Thank you, Madam Chair.
Mr. Secretary, I'm very excited to hear, this has been a long day with this committee, but I think the excitement is that you have this ability in your position to take a department that is one of the oldest departments in the Federal government and probably deals with more different areas all the way from commodity exchanges to school lunch programs and international trade and so on and really use your skills as a governor and administrator to hopefully modernize this department.
And one of the things that strikes me and Marcy brought it out in her book (ph) is that we want to grow the market (inaudible) necessary. I represent a lot of specialty crops. The markets out there are right in your own back yard. One is the farmers market you mentioned. You can grow that by requiring that states issue their SNAP card, their WIC cards and the other vouchers that are given out at those farmer markets. We do that in Santa Cruz County where the social services department who manages these things goes and distributes them there. And I'll tell you, 65 percent of income made at that farmers market comes from those vouchers. And you know they're buying fresh fruits and vegetables and they're buying local.
The other problem is that we don't -- schools that we distribute food to can't go out and buy food locally. They have to go through the system that Marcy was talking about and that list that I gave her that she quoted from and this is the list of the department last year and one of our problems, we talk about obesity and everybody's talking about and we need to do something about it. You need to kind of shake up your department. You ought to ask them without any other expense (ph), how can we shift money to have a goal to have a salad bar in every school and you're going to find out all the reasons why we can't do it. But we last year spent $90 million on mozzarella cheese, $9 million on peanut butter, no offense to Mr. Sanford and...
DELAURO: How about cheese? I might take offense.
FARR: And we only spent $51,000 on fresh tomatoes. So our priorities are all in these old commodity programs and the processed foods and all of that and as we have to change that buy radically looking at what we talked about earlier, consolidating all these programs and streamlining so that you have additional revenue to get the fresh fruits and vegetables in the schools and I hope that you will stick to that. I know that (inaudible)
The other thing I'd like to ask is a statement because (inaudible) is he still here? It's too bad because Mr. Kingston was talking about earmarks and I'd be glad and I want you to look at. We have, I represent Monterey County, he was talking about earmarks and I'd be glad, I want you to look at -- I represent Monterey (inaudible) 85 crops in Monterey County. It's the number one ag county. They don't have any subsidies of water or anything like that, no commodity crops, 85 crops that produce $3 billion in sales for one small ag county and it's the highest in the United States. We can't get a research station, an ag research station build there because we're spending the limited money the ARS (ph) has on capital outlay, including the $13 million earmark that Mr. Kingston asked for for last year to get the poultry research facility in Athens, Georgia.
That's a $270 million project and it's sucking all the money away from all other projects in the country including getting in Salinas, probably the oldest, one of the oldest -- earmarking that -- but because, because you've got issues like (inaudible) the e. coli breakout. There's the salmonella breakout, listeria. This is all the specialty crops, the ones that you (inaudible) for, in other words, make sure that they're healthy and we're doing incredible things out there. But we really need you to invest in that research station. So I'm for earmarks and Mr. Kingston says he's not but he certainly has gotten a lot of the money that I'd like to get to Salinas. So those are some observations and then really because we kind of knew to look at all these programs and figure out how to make the department be responsive to the demands of the modernity society. Some of these programs are very old and don't meet the test of common sense any more.
TK: Rep. Farr points out the disparity of USDA surplus commodity purchases for nutrition programs. An earlier exchange in the hearing concerned revision of school meals to reflect dietary guidelines.
JACKSON: I just want to be clear. I don't think we need another study Mr. Secretary at IOM. I just want to be clear. I'm not being combative. I just want to be clear that I don't think we need another study. Whatever it is that we're eating in the cafeteria at the Department of Agriculture ought to be the exact same thing that we're serving to students across our country in school districts. That's all.
VILSACK: The study is designed to make sure that the meals are consistent with the dietary guidelines. While we may not need another study, the reality is that they have not been consistent with those dietary guidelines and they need to be. We have 36 percent of our children today who are faced with the possibility of being overweight or being obese. And that is a health care issue and a health care crisis that needs to be addressed and on the other side, we have children who don't get enough food, who are hungry.
Those need to be addressed and the way we can help address both of those problems is by making sure that the meals that we serve, whether it's breakfast, whether it's lunch or snacks are consistent with those dietary guidelines so that youngsters get a balanced, nutritious meal. That's what our goal is and that's what we are aiming to do with the budget we proposed. That is what the president has instructed to me to do and I take that very, very seriously.
DELAURO: Mr. Jackson, I'd just like to point and then I want to make an announcement here. On the dietary guidelines, Mr. Secretary, under secretary, acting Under Secretary O'Connor was here last week. He did say that this was going (inaudible) and made recommendations. It could take an additional three years, because one of the questions I was going to ask and Mr. Jackson's absolutely right and others here were at this nutrition hearing where we spent a fair amount of time, it is intolerable.
We will not take another three years for a rule making process for the implementation of revised nutrition standards and meal requirements for school lunch and for school breakfast, because the issue is correct. We cannot wait that long and one of my questions to you is going to be, how do we cut through this and get to a rule as quickly as we can on these guidelines. (inaudible) is coming out in October, you've got the written authorization coming up in September. We need to have some information from -- in order to move forward on these things. We got to move fast.
VILSACK: The answer to your question is, how do you cut through it? The secretary basically saying cut through it.
TK: As progressive as Agriculture Secretary Vilsack has been in regard to fruits and vegetables, there are institutional barriers to change, and thus the friction continues over commodity purchases and changes to the guidelines for school meals.