PMA recently went on record supporting a proposal from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) about selling healthy foods. USDA proposes that stores that are eligible to sell foods under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) should offer a certain amount of healthy foods, including fruits and vegetables. PMA agrees.
It’s important for PMA to weigh in on issues like this because greater produce consumption yields greater produce sales—a benefit to our members and a benefit to society at large through greater consumer health and productivity and reduced health care costs.
When it comes to fruit and vegetable consumption, the United States falls woefully short of the experts’ recommendations. (So do other countries, but this USDA issue affects only U.S. retailers.) In our comments, we said: “Less than 10 percent of children meet the recommended daily number of fruit and vegetable servings, and other statistics show that fewer than one in 10 Americans meet recommended fruit and vegetable intake levels.”
So PMA supports U.S. policy to increase access to and consumption of fruits and vegetables. This shared value has driven our leadership role in marketing fruits and vegetables differently. Examples include our support of the eat brighter!™ movement encouraging kids 2-5 to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables and the FNV program recruiting actors, athletes and other influencers to promote fruits and vegetables to teens and tweens.
Specific to this rule about SNAP-eligible retailers, we supported the proposed changes to increase the quantity and variety of fruits and vegetables available to SNAP recipients. We noted that they should be able to expect and get healthful foods like fresh produce through the program. This proposed rule would encourage consumption of fruits and vegetables, among other healthful foods, by making those foods available at all stores participating in SNAP.
This proposal rises from the Agricultural Act of 2014 (the most recent Farm Bill). It included provisions for a more-rigorous standard for stores to become eligible as SNAP retailers, requiring participating retailers to stock a greater quantity and variety of perishable items in at least three of the four staple food categories: dairy; meat, poultry, or fish; fruits or vegetables; and bread or cereals. The provision also required retailers to stock, at minimum, seven food items in each of the staple food categories to be eligible for the program.
In our comments, PMA acknowledged the strides taken by retailers participating in SNAP to comply with and, in many cases, exceed the statutory and regulatory requirements for stocking healthful foods like fruits and vegetables. Legislative initiatives such as the Farm Bill ensure that retailers offer a more robust supply of fruits and vegetables among other staple foods, while still protecting food access for SNAP recipients.
And, we acknowledged in our comments, access is an important issue. We noted that increasing access to and availability of healthful foods is a laudable goal that we share. We urged USDA to carefully balance this call for healthier foods with the basic need to provide access to food for SNAP recipients.
We said: “In the narrow context of geographic locations with significantly limited access to food, SNAP recipients living in so-called ‘food deserts’ must be able to continue to redeem SNAP benefits at convenience stores or other retail outlets participating under current program retailer standards. In this context, it is PMA’s hope that the refined retailer standards do not discourage certain retailers—that are otherwise the only viable option for SNAP recipients—from participating in the program altogether.”
By Kathy Means, vice president of industry relations
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