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Final Rule on Geographic Preference in Child Nutrition Programs Released

April 22, 2011

Today the Food and Nutrition Service released the final rule on geographic preference in Child Nutrition Programs, demonstrating substantial progress for local and regional food systems.  As the final rule explains, “geographic preference is a tool that gives bidders in a specified geographic area a specific, defined advantage in the procurement process.”

This rulemaking follows from an amendment in the 2008 Farm Bill directing the Secretary of Agriculture to encourage local sourcing by institutions in the National School Lunch Program, School Breakfast Program, Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, and Department of Defense (DOD) Fresh program, among others.

According to the final rule, institutions that receive Child Nutrition funds for the aforementioned programs can choose to give extra points to unprocessed locally grown or raised products in the procurement process.

As in the proposed rule, institutions have the discretion to define the “local” area for which preference applies.  As the Agency notes in the final rule, “individual circumstances and product availability leads to the most successful local and regional procurement programs.”

Regarding the definition of “unprocessed agricultural products,” the proposed rule included “de minimus handling and preparation ‘such as may be necessary to present an agricultural product to a school food authority in a useable form, such as washing vegetables, bagging greens, butchering livestock and poultry, pasteurizing milk, and putting eggs in a carton.‘” Due to numerous comments received by the Agency around this definition, however, the final rule more explicitly covers various food handling and preservation techniques as follows:

  • “Combination packages” of vegetables and fruits are now permitted for geographic preference.  An example of this would be a mixture of summer squash and broccoli.
  • Formed products, such as ground beef and other meat patties, are permitted for geographic preference as long as they “contain no additives or fillers.”
  • Ascorbic acid, used “to hold color or prevent oxidation once a fruit or vegetable product was cut or chopped,” can now be added to products qualifying as “unprocessed.”  However, the final rule clearly states that “no other preservatives used for any other purpose are considered to be acceptable.”

As in the proposed rule, frozen products are acceptable for geographic preference.  Also as in the proposed rule, cutting meat into strips, filleting fish, grinding grain, and packaging products are acceptable for geographic preference.

The final rule maintains that canned and other heat preserved products cannot be included in the definition of “unprocessed agricultural products.”

Finally, the final rule notes that while the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program can use geographic preference in its procurement process, the mandate for fresh products remains in effect.  The Agency will be issuing specific provisions in a proposed rule at a later date to clarify procurement options unique to this particular program.

Categories: Local & Regional Food Systems

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