Every five years, Congress embarks on a lengthy process to reauthorize federal farm policy through legislation commonly referred to as the “Farm Bill.” The Farm Bill is one of the most closely watched pieces of legislation by Congress, media, lobbyists and rural America. Although many may not take a second glance at this legislation, you should. Why? This year the Farm Bill has the opportunity to tackle one of the most pressing issues facing the nation – obesity.

Over the past two years, a broad-based coalition of agricultural organizations have joined together to shape a Farm Bill that is more competitive, improves the quality and safety of foods and improves nutrition for all Americans, especially children. The Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance represents 120 specialty crop organizations and 350 individual specialty crops throughout the nation in their effort to raise the level of debate on nutrition.

So, what is a specialty crop?

This is a classification used to describe fruits, vegetables, potatoes, nuts, nurseries, etc. Just about everything you see in the produce section at your local grocery store. Actually, specialty crops account for nearly half of all the cash crop receipts in America and are a vital component of the agricultural economy.

Getting back to nutrition, how does the Farm Bill help combat obesity?

For the first time, Congress has the opportunity to write into law legislation that would establish a nationwide effort to include fruits & vegetable in schools in each and every state. The USDA Fruit & Vegetable Snack Program – if authorized by Congress – would allow more than 5,000 schools and 4.5 million children by incorporating healthy eating into the school lunch program. There is no more effective way to establish a routine for healthy eating than give children fruits & vegetables every day at school.

So, how is Congress reacting…

A recent editorial by The Hill - one of the top publications covering politics and policy in our nation’s capitol – sums up the efforts of the Alliance very well. “Most notably, growers of fruits and vegetables appear to be on the verge of winning significant support for the first time. The bill approved by the House last summer includes $1.6 billion to help growers of tomatoes, oranges and other so-called specialty crops…”

This boost was made possible – in part – by the efforts of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi who took her case to the floor indicated her support of the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance and their priorities. Recently, the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee passed a bill that would take the needs and priorities of specialty crop growers to even higher levels.

But, the food fight is far from over. The U.S. Senate is poised to vote on the Farm Bill very soon but there is still division on the bill as a whole. Robert Guenther, Senior Vice President for Public Policy at the United Fresh Produce Association, shared his thoughts on the future of the Farm Bill and its impacts on the nation’s specialty crop industry.

Many have voiced their concerns with the Farm Bill as a whole, but Congress has a chance to enact a program that is a true paradigm shift in nutrition policy and sets a course for health eating in our nation’s schools. Let’s hope they do just that.

BlogZapwater Communications