As part of its ongoing work in nutrition policy to increase access and opportunities for fresh fruits and vegetables, the International Fresh Produce Association has been focused on helping elected leaders aggressively prioritize nutrition to improve dietary quality for all Americans. Among IFPA’s nutrition policy priorities are:
- Creating a federal national strategy to address the nation’s nutrition crisis, including a White House Conference on Nutrition
- Reforming USDA’s purchasing and distribution programs for those in need to include fresh produce as laid out in the Fresh Produce Procurement Reform Act, introduced in September 2021
- Ensuring all federal nutrition programs align with the government’s own fruit and vegetable serving recommendations as included in the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA), including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), as we enter the next Farm Bill process
- Building congressional consensus for Produce Prescriptions at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) through Medicare and Medicaid
- Supporting students’ access to and intentional frequency of exposure to healthful and nutritious meals to facilitate taste acquisition and dietary inclusion of a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables through school meals and the Child Nutrition Reauthorization
- Maintaining the triple-increase of benefits for fruits and vegetables in the Women, Infants and Children Program (WIC)
Most recently, IFPA’s work to ensure federal nutrition programs align with the dietary guidelines and to support students’ access to fresh produce was seen in a new report issued by the Bipartisan Policy Center. Titled Strengthening the Child Nutrition Programs and authored by the center’s Food and Nutrition Security Task Force (on which IFPA Co-CEO Tom Stenzel serves), the report puts forth a number of broad nutrition policy recommendations.
Of interest to IFPA members and the fresh produce community, the recommendations specifically call for:
- Increasing the accessibility, affordability, and intake of fruits and vegetables in child nutrition programs to improve nutrition security
- Adding a monthly fruit and vegetable benefit to Electronic Benefit Transfer cards so that children can continue to have access to fresh produce throughout the summer
- Expanding the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program by lowering the threshold for school eligibility and expanding to middle and high schools
- Permanently increasing the cash value benefit (CVB) for fruits and vegetables in the WIC program
Remarking on this report, Stenzel said “Federal nutrition policy plays a pivotal role in helping Americans address barriers to consumption goals by providing nutrition access and interventions to those who need it most. Bipartisan consensus like this shows, that no matter what side of the aisle one is on, fresh produce remains a critical component of all policy conversations about food, nutrition, and hunger.”
In addition to its work with Congressional leaders, IFPA was also among many signatories on a bipartisan letter from Senators Kristen Gillibrand and Lisa Murkowski and Representatives Gwen Moore and Don Young to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack urging a tripling of the fresh fruit and vegetable benefit in WIC which would align this federal nutrition program with DGA recommendations for fruit and vegetable consumption.
“When the WIC food package added a fruit and vegetable benefit 13 years ago, it was revolutionary in increasing access and improving dietary quality for families. Unfortunately, the benefit has not kept pace with costs and Dietary Guidelines’ consumption recommendations,” said IFPA Vice President of Nutrition & Health Mollie Van Lieu.
“Congress and USDA stepped up during the pandemic to triple the benefit amount, but USDA must implement a permanent solution to provide consistency to the supply chain, and most importantly, the women and children who rely on this monthly allotment. We thank Senators Gillibrand and Murkowski and Representatives Moore and Young for their leadership on this issue and ask that USDA to swiftly update the food package to align with the 2017 National Academy of Science’s recommendations.”
Throughout 2022, IFPA will ramp up its work to support children’s access to a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables in school meals, WIC, and SNAP; secure a permanent place for fresh produce in USDA’s purchasing and distribution programs for those in need; and create a new urgency to revamp federal feeding programs such as SNAP to focus on dietary quality.
In addition to its nutrition policy work, the IFPA Foundation for Fresh Produce is focused on creating strategic partnerships to grow a healthier world by creating greater access for families and children to fresh fruits and vegetables because barriers to produce are also barriers to nutrition, to wellness, to opportunity, and to a vibrant life.