The 2012 Farm Bill has seen twists and turns in the legislature over the last couple of months. Although it has turned into a bipartisan standoff over money, many of the programs from the 2008 Farm Bill have expired or will expire in September. Several ‘food and health leaders’ have signed an open letter to Congress asking them to reject the Farm Bill in its current form because they believe the bill gives the most money to the largest commodity crop growers while underfunding conservation and nutrition assistance programs. I agree that most fruit and vegetable growers for human consumption are currently overlooked in the Farm Bill. I won’t get into politics here, but I think most bills that come through our government are bloated and need revision because politicians are attempting to help out their constituents. I also believe the 2012 Farm Bill should be revised in several areas…but why does it seem like everyone waited too long to voice their opinion? Any really beneficial programs that are supported by the Farm Bill will be terminated if it is completely rejected. Will everyone be able to compromise and revise the Farm Bill before it’s too late? What makes the bill especially important right now is the drought that has taken over the Midwest. How will the government respond when those harvests – which will affect food, animal feed, and ethanol supplies – are lost? I just got back from a road trip and the brown fields in Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, and Kansas were a bit depressing.
The Farm Bill is huge. You can read the 2008 bill here. It includes commodities, conservation, trade, nutrition, farming credit and loans, rural development, research , forestry, energy, horticulture, livestock, crop insurance and disaster assistance, commodity futures, and even a section of ‘miscellaneous’. What actually caught my eye was the research part of the bill. I earned my undergraduate degree from a land-grant university, so I was well-acquainted with that part. This section of the bill also sets aside funds specifically for nutrition and agriculture research. You are probably familiar with many innovations to come out of this bill but you would never really know it. Ever wonder how those cut apples from McDonald’s stay white and crisp? You can partially thank the U.S. government for that.
The USDA Agricultural Research Service teamed up with Mantrose-Haeuser, an edible coating company, to create and patent a product that would keep fresh-cut fruit and vegetables from browning. The result is NatureSeal AS-1. For years prior, scientists attempted to come up with a solution to prevent fresh food browning without harsh chemicals, flavors, or reduction in nutrition. They finally did it with the help of the USDA. NatureSeal AS-1 is a mixture of vitamins and minerals that will keep some fresh fruits from browning for at least 21 days. That sure beats the couple hours it took last time I left an apple core out on the counter!
The calcium citrate-based coating is applied to freshly cut produce to maintain color, crispness, and water content. Originally developed for apples and pears, AS-1 also retains the freshness of pineapples, melons, avocados, limes, nectarines, plums, starfruit, and coconut. NatureSeal has developed formulas for many other fruits and vegetables as well as for frozen and dried fruits. Which makes me happy – I love dried apricots, but the sulfites used to preserve them would always make me wheeze and cough. NatureSeal products are sulfite-free. My husband loves the baby carrots that come ready-to-eat (well, not technically baby carrots, they are just big carrots that have been shaved down, or ‘baby-cut’). NatureSeal is used to prevent whitening and carotene loss from those little guys too. The company has expanded their product line to include pre-washes that kill bacteria on fresh fruits and vegetables without the harsh chlorine.
Even though I am a proponent of buying fresh, whole foods at the market or grocery store, I am glad that grocery stores and restaurants are able to serve more fresh fruits and vegetables to people who will reach for the baby-cut carrots or a fruit cup instead of a bag of chips. Fast food restaurants such as McDonald’s are able to add fresher foods to their menu too. No matter how you feel about fast food restaurants, they aren’t going away any time soon. It’s nice to have the ability to order apple slices instead of french fries when your sandwich just doesn’t quite fill you up. Switching from a small fry to a packet of apples saves you 215 calories and 11 grams of fat – and will even give you 160% of your daily allowance of vitamin C. You just have to make the switch. And keep an eye on that Farm Bill – it’s not all bad, no matter where you stand on the political spectrum.