Organization tells officials that policies often contradict


For the Capital Press

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Members of the United Fresh Produce Association highlighted the contradictions in Obama administration policies on nutrition, agriculture and energy with White House officials during the association's annual public policy conference on Friday, Sept. 11.

Martha Coven, special assistant in the White House Domestic Policy Council Office of Mobility and Opportunity, said the administration looks forward to working with the fruit and vegetable producers on reauthorization of the child nutrition programs because "you are selling the products we want people to buy more of."

She urged the producers to keep costs down, noting that adding more fruits and vegetables to school menus would be more expensive than the processed foods now on the menus.

"At the end of the day you are building a marketplace for these products," she said.

A producer at the session said the administration's promotion of locally produced foods sends a message that "big production is not good," which is unrealistic in fighting hunger.

Coven said it is easier to help children build a connection between the foods they eat and how they are produced by talking about locally produced foods.

"We are not naive about the fact that you cannot source every cafeteria locally," she said. "It would not be reasonable to do that."

Greg Nelson, the associate director for energy, environment and technology in the public liaison office, said the fruit and vegetable producers should look for opportunities in the climate change bill. He listed a number of federal grant programs to increase energy efficiency and for green jobs training.

Kim Quarles, a United Fresh official, said the group is struggling with the climate change bill because "we're uniquely energy intensive." Quarles said energy costs are high after harvest because produce is refrigerated.

Quarles said foreign competitors have lower costs of production, and fruits and vegetable producers cannot use no-till methods like row-crop producers can.

Nelson said the administration wants to make sure that the views it promotes on energy and climate issues "do not have a negative impact on other parts of the administration."

John Pandol, a Delano, Calif, producer, said he sees mixed signals from the administration on genetic modification because it is promoting corn-based ethanol and organic foods.

"Ethanol production is one big GMO monoculture from Minneapolis to Kansas City and the Wabash to the Platte" rivers, he said.

Nelson acknowledged "tension" over GMOs.

Coven said the Health and Human Services Department will announce a $650 million program of grants to localities for obesity prevention and wellness strategies later this month.

The grants, which are funded through the economic stimulus package, could be used to encourage consumption of more fruits and vegetables in the school, but that the application would have to include other items such as building sidewalks to encourage people to walk more.

Coven also noted that a $100 million Agriculture Department program to pay for salad bar equipment in schools, which was also part of the stimulus package, is so popular that all the money has been allocated.

A United Fresh official said that USDA received 6.5 times as many applications as it could fund.

On Thursday, Sept. 10, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told United members that the Obama administration will push for more fruits and vegetables in reauthorization of the child nutrition programs.

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