The U. S. produce industry could help Americans trim their waistlines while boosting sales if it would fund public service advertisements encouraging Americans to eat more fruits and vegetables, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Sept. 10.
“What if we took five per cent of your marketing budget and set it aside for that purpose?” Vilsack asked. “How much more opportunity could we create with that?”
Vilsack, who has been trying to boost fruit and vegetable consumption, said marketing money could fund “public service announcements that support what we are trying to do, which is encourage families and children to make fruits and vegetables into a healthy choice they want to eat …”
The industry had been debating whether to create a $30-million marketing board to promote fruits and vegetables in general. Some crops already have their own marketing programs.
The non-profit Produce for Better Health Foundation said it would gather comment on the idea through October. A survey of growers, shippers, processors and importers found more opposition than support with half of respondents undecided.
During a speech to the United Fresh Produce Association, Vilsack also said the industry could help solve the “food desert” problem – areas that lack grocery stores, mostly in inner city neighbourhoods and rural areas.
“You could help us, as we identify these food deserts, understand what it would take for … departments of government to assist a grocery store to be successfully located in such an area,” he said.
“It may, in some areas, be capital costs. It may be a lack of trained workers. It may be transportation issues. It may be safety and security issues.”
Next week, USDA will launch a “Know your farmer, know your food” campaign to encourage schools, colleges, hospitals, jails and other institutions to buy food from local producers, said Vilsack.
The goal is to find new markets that are close to home” and will provide income for small farms and strengthen the rural economy.
The administration often touts healthful eating, and the Obama family listed it as one reason behind creation of a kitchen garden at the White House.
Some 60 per cent of Americans are overweight or obese. Roughly 17 per cent of school-age children are obese, triple 1980’s rate. U. S. guidelines suggest physical exercise and a balanced diet including a variety of fruits and vegetables.