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INDUSTRY VIEWPOINT: Giving our future a fresh start

What would you do if presented with an opportunity to significantly improve the health of America's children while increasing your sales at the same time?

The United Research & Education Foundation has chosen to launch Project Fresh Start, a new three-year, $500,000-per-year program to help the next generation of children double their fresh produce consumption to meet today's dietary goals and stem the tide of childhood obesity.

Delivering direct benefits to children and the produce industry This multi-year program seeks to shape public policy that will drive increased fruit and vegetable consumption for kids. The program works to:

--- Expand the highly successful School Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Snack Program to all states across America.

--- Ensure that fresh fruits and vegetables are added to the Women, Infants & Children nutrition program to help more than 6 million American children and their moms get their eating habits off to the right start.

--- Bring a salad bar to every school helping to ensure that school meals meet the new 2005 Dietary Guidelines.

--- Increase the availability of fresh produce to schools through the Department of Defense Fresh Produce Distribution program.

--- Expand government commitment to the National 5 A Day Program with funding through the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.

With childhood obesity the fastest-growing public health problem, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Department of Health & Human Services' 2005 Dietary Guidelines calling for the doubling of fruit and vegetable consumption, and escalating health care costs, the need and the opportunity to increase the availability and access to fresh fruits and vegetables have never been greater.

Our industry has an unparalleled opportunity today to help usher in a new, healthier generation by increasing the availability and quality of fresh fruits and vegetables in schools, in government feeding programs and in kids' environment to stimulate produce consumption. These changes will last a lifetime, meaning improved health for millions of children and significant growth for the produce industry in the years ahead. It's time for our industry to step up and invest in our own future. The next several years offer so much potential benefit to both children's health and our own industry's future that we can't sit by and miss this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to truly change the way children in America eat.

To kick off Project Fresh Start, United has made a three-year, $100,000-per-year commitmentfrom its own operating budget to this program. And beyond this budget allocation, Project Fresh Start has already raised an additional $100,000 in direct corporate and personal contributions from member companies. Success depends on the industry's willingness to step up and invest in its own future.

Your investment in Project Fresh Start will make a big difference no matter how large or small. As a project of the United Research & Education Foundation, all contributions are tax-deductible as charitable contributions. Please visit our web site, www.uffva.org, to pledge your support for Project Fresh Start. If you'd like to discuss how your company can support Project Fresh Start, please contact me at ldisogra@uffva.org or visit with me at the United Produce Show at FMI in Chicago, May 6-9. We hope everyone in the produce industry will make some contribution to help bring about this new reality.

Someday, we will look back and know that we were all instrumental in changing the tide of childhood obesity and starting this next generation off on a lifetime of fresh produce choices that will sustain our industry's growth for years to come. Now, Project Fresh Start needs you.

(Lorelei DiSogra is vice president of nutrition and health for the United Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Association.)