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USDA to test adding canned, frozen produce in federal school snack program

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Agriculture is moving ahead with a new pilot program to test the impact of opening up the popular school fruit and vegetable program to canned, frozen or dried fruits and vegetables.

Schools selected to participate in USDA's Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Program are reimbursed for providing free fresh fruits and vegetables during the school day. The 2014 farm bill, signed Feb. 7 by President Obama, directed USDA to carry out a pilot program in FFVP-participating schools to examine the impact on children from widening the offerings to canned, frozen or dried fruits and vegetables.

When the farm bill passed, the American Frozen Food Institute lauded Congress for voting to include a one-year, $5 million pilot program in elementary schools across five states to test the efficacy of serving, canned, dried and frozen fruits and vegetables as snacks to low-income school children.

"On behalf of U.S. frozen fruit and vegetable producers, AFFI commends Congress for taking this important step towards establishing a new long-term initiative to improve childhood nutrition by providing schools with the opportunity to offer children the widest possible variety of healthy fruit and vegetable snacks, including frozen," said Kraig Naasz, president and chief executive officer of AFFI.

United Fresh Produce Association lobbied against tinkering with the successful program aimed at improving childhood nutrition with fresh produce offerings.

Now USDA is designing the pilot program that Congress directed for the 2014-15 school year.

USDA said in an March 27 Federal Register notice that it plans to collect data from more than 6,000 students in grades 4-6 in 100 public elementary schools across five states, and from more than 10,000 parents, teachers, school food service managers and principals. Comments on the pilot program are due May 27.