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Cranberry Juice In Schools: Changes To School Nutrition Standards, Vending Machine Availability Could Affect Industry

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The cranberry industry is bracing for impact, as new nutrition standards proposed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture threaten to affect the status of sugar-laden products that can be sold at school vending machines. Sugar-sweetened cranberry cocktails could very well be on the chopping block, according to a report from USA Today.

These upcoming rule changes are part of an initiative put forth in January by first lady Michelle Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to make school lunches more nutritional. The new standards are meant to offer less sodium, more whole grains and a wider selection of fruits and vegetables to the 32 million schoolchildren who participate in the National School Lunch and Breakfast programs.

Cranberry industry officials maintain that these nutrition standards could prove unfair to the industry due to the fact that cranberries must be sweetened; otherwise, the tart red fruits are difficult to eat raw.

The issue was addressed at a recent inaugural meeting of the bipartisan Congressional Cranberry Caucus on Capitol Hill, reports USA Today.

According to the Boston Globe, Massachusetts Sens. John Kerry and Scott Brown have joined the effort, saying that while they support the goal of the First Lady's campaign, an exception should be made for cranberries due to their overall health benefits.

Massachusetts and Wisconsin are the two largest cranberry producers in the country.

"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 committee, which also compromises Wisconsin and Massachusetts state Reps. Reid Ribble and Bill Keating, wrote in a letter to Vilsack. "We ask that you consider including a variety of cranberry juice and dried cranberry products in USDA's food nutrition program so that children, seniors and adults served by these programs are not denied benefits unique to cranberries."

The group also sent a letter to the First Lady extolling cranberries’ abilities to improve urinary tract health and protect against cancer, CBS News reports.

"Our concern is more the signal a standard that says cranberries are unhealthy sends out to other constituencies," Randy Papadellis, president and CEO of Ocean Spray Cranberries Inc., told USA Today. "Many people take their cue from USDA in terms of what is healthy."

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