U.S.D.A. honing nutrition focus

by Josh Sosland
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PHILADELPHIA — Meaningful spending on nutrition education and a major program to incorporate fruits and vegetables into government programs are among proposed farm program innovations detailed March 26 in a presentation by Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns.

Speaking at the Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia, Mr. Johanns highlighted a number of highlights in farm bill nutrition proposals. Overall, an additional $467 million would be spent under the proposed plan than under current program programs.

Mr. Johanns said the proposals would strengthen efforts to integrate nutrition education into the food stamp program by devoting $100 million to create a five-year competitive grants demonstration program seeking to develop and test solutions for the problems of increasing obesity rates.

An additional $2.75 billion would be spent under the program for the purchase of fruits and vegetables to improve nutrition in U.S. Department of Agriculture food and nutrition programs.

Farm bill nutrition programs constitute the largest part of the U.S.D.A. budget and the Food Stamp Program represents the heart of the nutrition programs. The Department is proposing to change the name of the Food Stamp Program to reflect advances in technology that have made the stamps obsolete and to better reflect the nutritional aspects of the program. The Department is proposing as its new name the Food and Nutrition Program.

In addition to addressing nutrition issues, Mr. Johanns reviewed a number of proposals aimed at ensuring the integrity of the Food Stamp Program.

"We drew up our nutrition proposals with three primary goals in mind — based on the feedback we received during our Farm Bill Forums," Mr. Johanns said. "We recommend increasing program access for the working poor and elderly, moving America toward healthier eating habits, and making more effective use of taxpayer dollars. We will make certain our eligibility rules support both work and education wherever that is possible. We also want to improve our administration of the Food Stamp Program, strengthen its integrity, and finally rename it to reflect the changes that time and technology have brought since its inception in 1964."

In other steps to promote healthy eating, the U.S.D.A. proposed:

· Supporting school lunch programs based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005 and invest $6 million in mandatory funding to conduct once every five years a survey of foods purchased by school food authorities with federal cash assistance.

· Provide mandatory funding for the purchase of additional fruits and vegetables in the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs. The $500 million in funding over 10 years would represent a net increase in the total purchase of fruits and vegetables for school meals above levels available under any other authorities.

· Boost Section 32 spending on fruits and vegetables by $2.75 billion over 10 years. Mr. Johanns said all food and nutrition program recipients potentially would benefit from this allocation.

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