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Pending Federal School Vending Standards Worry Cranberry Industry

WASHINGTON — The Department of Agriculture is finalizing new nutrition standards for what can be sold in school vending machines, stores and a la carte cafeteria lines that the cranberry industry fears could eliminate some cranberry drinks.

The guidelines, inspired by first lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move initiative to combat childhood obesity, will likely target sweetened beverages, including cranberry juice cocktail. The USDA already has established new standards establishing what can be sold in school cafeterias as part of the federal school lunch program. If the agency follows its earlier guidelines, only 100% juice beverages would be allowed in vending machines and school stores.

The cranberry industry is hoping to convince the USDA that lumping cranberry drinks in the same category with soda and other sugary drinks is unfair, since the tart red fruit contains many nutrients and health benefits, but must be sweetened in order to be palatable. The proposed rule could exclude cranberry products from school vending machines and curtail marketing, said industry officials; they estimate the size of the school vending market to be $2.3 billion a year.

Representatives from the United Cranberry Growers Cooperative — a collective of 85 growers — voiced their message at the recent inaugural meeting of the Congressional Cranberry Caucus on Capitol Hill. Their goal was to help persuade agriculture officials to make an exception for cranberry products in its nutrition standards for added-sugar products.

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