Monday, June 25, 2012

Growers of cranberries, which need sugar for sales, fear possible exclusion from schools

The federal government is expected to propose new nutrition standards soon that worry cranberry growers from Massachusetts to Wisconsin and into Canada. The effort, urged on by first lady Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" initiative, is the Department of Agriculture's likely new guidelines for what can be sold in school vending machines, stores and cafeteria lines. Sugar is the target, writes Larry Bivins of USA Today, and sweetened beverages like cranberry juice cocktail could be deemed unhealthy because the berry is not popular without some sort of sweetener added. That would be unfortunate and unfair, cranberry industry officials say, because the tart, deep-red fruit is loaded with nutrients and health benefits. But for consumers to avail themselves of those benefits, cranberries must be palatable. "Cranberries can be sweetened with anything," said Linda Prehn, a cranberry grower in Tomah, Wis., citing apple juice as an example. (Associated Press photo of Massachusetts cranberry worker Miguel Sandel)

Prehn, chairman of United Cranberry Growers Cooperative, a collective of 85 growers in Massachusetts, Oregon and Wisconsin in the U.S. and the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick and Quebec, was among cranberry honchos attending the recent inaugural meeting of the Congressional Cranberry Caucus on Capitol Hill. Prehn and others are hoping the bipartisan caucus led by Reps. Reid Ribble, R-Wis., and Bill Keating, D-Mass., and Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Scott Brown, R-Mass., can help persuade agriculture officials to make an exception for cranberry products in its nutrition standards for added-sugar products.

"Given the beneficial and scientifically proven health properties of cranberries, we believe there is a need to establish clear standards that recognize cranberries as a part of a healthy diet," the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. The lawmakers sent a similar letter to the first lady, pointing out cranberries "contribute to whole body health, particularly urinary-tract health and the potential to fight cancer and other diseases." At stake is exclusion from an estimated $2.3 billion school vending-machine business and an image that could have a negative impact on the marketing of cranberry products worldwide, particularly cranberry juice cocktail, industry officials say.

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