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November 02, 2022

You must be pretty sure of yourself to proclaim the arrival of a “precedent-setting moment,” particularly in an era where social media makes everything a front-page story.  

 

But according to International Fresh Produce Association (IFPA) CEO Cathy Burns, there’s no other way to describe the declaration by U.S. President Joe Biden that food’s connection to health is a national priority.

 

The president made the statement at the White House Conference on Food, Nutrition and Health, September 28, 2022, after listening to a wide range of interest groups.

 

Leading up to the conference, some observers said the dialogue was too focussed on hunger as a political issue. Agriculture, in fact, loudly protested that it was initially being ignored, which had not been the case in previous conferences. That was odd, given how much support Biden has been giving Agriculture Secretary Tim Vilsack and the United States Department of Agriculture. 

 

In the end though, Biden advisors found a sweet spot that certainly has grassroot support from fruit and vegetable producers: that is, the intrinsic connection between good food and good health. Burns said “moonshot recommendations” by her organization -- along with steady lobby efforts in which she underlined to Biden what she called the “urgent need to increase fruit and vegetable consumption” -- helped fashion the President’s determination to put heathier food on American plates.

 

The new approach has five pillars: integrating nutrition and health, empowering consumers to make healthy choices (including more liberal health-related labelling and health claims), supporting physical activity, improving food access and affordability, and enhancing research.

 

“Seeing our fruit and vegetable moonshot recommendations represented in the nutrition blueprint is a powerful step forward for our industry,” said Burns. “Now it’s time for the industry to continue the work to make these policies a reality and produce healthcare outcomes for every American and across the globe.”

 

That’s ambitious. Right now, America is the antithesis of health, and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) officials readily admit it. Following the President’s edict, FDA officials were on the road selling the aggressive approach to health. Commissioner Robert Califf told attendees at the Consumer Federation of America’s annual food policy conference that U.S. life expectancy has fallen five years behind that of other high-income countries.

 

He blamed poor food choices. And he wondered aloud…what are Americans thinking?

 

“It's disturbing to say the least that in a nation as knowledgeable and wealthy as ours, millions of Americans continue to suffer from diet-related disease and lack the basic nutrients for a healthy diet,” he said.

 

The Biden mandate should bode well for Canadian fruit and vegetable producers. We know the value of the U.S. market for our exports. We’re already exporting mountains of produce there. The door’s open, and I’d like to think all that scrumptious, fresh Canadian produce could help America with its better-consumption strategy.

 

That’s especially timely now, given the struggles that traditional domestic suppliers are having, such as drought-ravaged California. We’re even seeing forays into Canada by berry giants Naturipe Farms and Driscoll’s to determine whether growers here can fill a climate-driven gap.

 

The next step is waiting. Of course, protectionism could derail the whole thing, and we know the U.S. is moving towards greater domestic capacity in many sectors.

 

But just imagine something like a co-marketing campaign with U.S. distributors where interests there aren’t threatened, in so-called unhealthy states in the south in particular -- Alabama, West Virginia, Kentucky, Louisiana and Mississippi. Eat healthy, eat what our Canadian neighbours have to offer. What an opportunity, especially since it would be driven by the Biden food and nutrition policy.

 

That sounds bold. But I go into a grocery store in Illinois and see almost nothing but Canadian mushrooms. People buy them and don’t think twice. So why not other commodities too, especially now? I know it’s not simple, but it’s timely. With Biden’s push towards food and nutrition, Canada could enter yet another golden export era.

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Submitted by Owen Roberts on 2 November 2022