The Fresh Produce Procurement Reform Act, legislation that would increase and improve USDA’s procurement of fresh fruits and vegetables, is now in the hopper with many supporters.

The bill would order USDA to partner with growers, distributors, and food hubs to provide fresh, U.S.-grown fruits and vegetables to community organizations like schools, local food pantries, and youth organizations while prioritizing socially disadvantaged farmers and entities, regional food inequities, and local and regional food systems.

With taxpayer funds,  USDA annually spends $6 billion on U.S.-produced and processed foods through such aid as Emergency Food Assistance and the National School Lunch program.  Only about $5 million is spent on fresh produce, and there’s no focus on sourcing from U.S. regional farms.

“Far too many families across the United States do not have ready access to high-quality fresh fruits and vegetables,” said Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro. “The USDA’s Commodity Procurement program buys more than $3 billion in domestically produced foods annually and helps drive significant reforms across our food system. 

DeLauro said that’s why she has introduced the Fresh Produce Procurement Reform Act with Rep. David G. Valadao (R-CA) and Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) as bipartisan legislation.

“This will allow our diverse local and regional supply chains the opportunity to distribute U.S.-grown fresh produce to those in need,” DeLauro added.

Congressman Valadao said: “We need to ensure our food insecure residents in the Central Valley have access to the fresh, nutritious fruits and vegetables we grow right in our backyard. This bill helps our neighbors in need and helps our domestic agriculture sector by ensuring the produce they grow is being used. I’m proud to join my colleagues to introduce this bipartisan bill to strengthen our agriculture economy and make fresh produce more widely available to needy people.”

“Improving access to local fruits and vegetables is a win-win for Ohio farmers and residents,” said Senator Brown. “Not only does this bill make it easier for Ohio residents to access local produce, but it will also help create shorter American supply chains, ensuring Ohio small family farmers and businesses keep more of their money in their community.”  

The legislation won praise from the industry it will benefit.

“The demand for fresh fruits and vegetables for those serving the nutrition insecure remains high, but the existing model limits both the suppliers and varieties offered to consumers,” said Mollie Van Lieu, International Fresh Produce Association (IFPA) Vice President of Nutrition and Health

The sponsors claim that USDA’s existing food procurement model makes it difficult for highly perishable fresh fruits and vegetables to be promptly procured and delivered to clients. Additionally, the food options are limited to five fresh produce varieties.

Simultaneously, they say,  strong demand exists for fresh fruit and vegetables from community-based organizations and food banks that serve those experiencing hunger, including those that do not have access to existing programs, such as The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP).

The Fresh Produce Procurement Reform Act would:

  • Provide USDA with an additional tool to partner with existing growers and fresh produce distributors to procure a more significant amount of fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Distribute U.S.-grown fresh fruits and vegetables to local food banks, schools, youth-serving organizations, tribal governments, and other nonprofit community members serving nutrition-insecure populations.
  • Strengthen access to a wide variety of U.S.-grown fresh fruits and vegetables to recipients in need by including at least seven types of U.S.-grown fresh fruits and vegetables for vulnerable communities living in poverty.
  • Provide opportunities for a wider variety of high-quality produce sourced, packed, and distributed from growers and distributors of all sizes, including veteran, women-owned, and socially disadvantaged agriculture community members.

The Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics has already endorsed the Fresh Produce Procurement Reform Act,

Also on board are Advocates for Better Children’s Diets, American Heart Association, Balanced, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Center for Science in the Public, Chef Ann Foundation, Des Moines Area Religious Council Food Pantry, Farm Sanctuary, The Food Trust, Healthy Food America, International Fresh Produce Association, National Center for Health Research, Save the Children, ScratchWorks, The Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance, Wholesome Wave, YMCA of the USA, and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.

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