Cantwell Hails Senate Passage of Farm Bill That Could Make School Meals Healthier

Bill includes Cantwell’s Pulse School Pilot that could mean more peas, lentils and chickpeas in school lunches

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) hailed the Senate’s passage of the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2013 (S. 954). Cantwell supported the legislation, which was approved by a vote of 66-27. The bill now moves to the House for consideration.

Cantwell has been a leading Senate voice calling for passage of a farm bill to support agriculture jobs in Washington state and around the nation. In 2012, she and Senator Mike Johanns (R-NE) led a bipartisan letter with 44 senators urging action on a farm bill.

Cantwell recently called for passage of the Farm Bill during a statewide tour that included a stop in Seattle. She visited Dearborn Park Elementary school in Seattle’s Beacon Hill neighborhood to highlight how her ‘Pulse School Pilot’ amendment in the Farm Bill could make school meals healthier by integrating pulse crops – which include peas, lentils and chickpeas – into breakfasts and lunches.

"We are one step closer to having more high-fiber, high-protein options for school lunches with the new Pulse School Pilot program,” said Cantwell. “Lots of beans, lentils and chickpeas added to school lunches could provide healthier food options for kids. And a new research program in the Farm Bill will also help us come up with new food products made out of these super-foods. The bipartisan passage of this Farm Bill is a win-win for Washington state: it means jobs for our agriculture producers and keeps our students healthy and ready to learn.”

Cantwell’s Pulse School Pilot provision would provide the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) $10 million through 2017 to purchase pulse crops to use in school breakfasts and lunches. This could include raw beans and lentils as well as foods made from pulse crops, such as hummus. Flours made from pulse crops could also be added to breads, tortillas and pastas to enhance their nutritional value.

At the conclusion of the Pulse School Pilot, the U.S. Department of Agriculture would determine the program’s effectiveness by measuring increases in student consumption of pulse crops, identifying pulse crops students prefer and determining how pulse crops change nutritional levels in school meals. The Pulse School Pilot is modeled after the successful 2008 Whole Grains Pilot program, which helped the USDA purchase five million pounds of whole grain pancakes and tortillas for schools.

"Passage of the 2013 Farm Bill by the U.S. Senate moves us one step closer to the reforms we need to address the changing needs of U.S. Agriculture and the citizens we serve,” said Tim McGreevy, CEO of the USA Dry Pea & Lentil Council. “The American Pulse Association and the USA Dry Pea and Lentil Council are especially pleased that the Senate bill includes the establishment of the Pulse Health Initiative (PHI) in the research title and the School Pulse Food Pilot (SPFP) program in the nutrition title. Passage of these two measures sends a message that the U.S. Senate is serious about finding solutions to the Obesity, Global Food Security and Sustainability issues facing this nation and the global community.

“The Pulse Health Initiative will increase research on pulse crops -- dry beans, peas, lentils and chickpeas -- which are recognized as low-cost, nutrient-dense foods that could positively impact the health of our citizens and our environment,” McGreevy continued. “The School Pulse Food Pilot program would introduce these healthy pulse crops to our school age children which are struggling with epidemic increases in obesity.  We are pleased that the Senate has completed its work and we look forward to the House passing the farm bill in the near future as well."

The 2013 Farm Bill also includes Cantwell’s Pulse Health Initiative, which would support $25 million per year over five years in pulse crop health research to help increase public demand and drive job growth. The research would look into the health and nutrition benefits of pulse crops, including their ability to reduce obesity and associated chronic diseases. The initiative would support technical expertise to help food companies use nutrient-dense pulse crops in their products as well as establish an educational program to encourage the consumption and production of pulse crops.

"We applaud the U.S. Senate for its approval of a new Farm Bill,” said Christian Schlect, President of the Northwest Horticultural Council. “This legislation will help ensure that our state's apples, pears, and cherries growers--as well as our nation's general economy--will  continue to benefit from important federal agricultural research, export marketing programs, and general nutritional assistance. Senator Cantwell's active support of this long-awaited measure is much appreciated."

Washington state is the top chickpea producer in the nation – producing nearly half of the nation’s total – and third in the nation for pea and lentil production. Pulse crop production in the state supports thousands of jobs – including those in transportation, port facilities, equipment manufacturers, crop advisors, insurance, supplies and other services. Washington state has 1,000 farm families producing pulse crops. The value of pea, lentil and chickpea shipments handled via the Seattle/Tacoma Port District reached nearly $130 million in 2011 – up from roughly $5 million in 2001.

Chickpea acreage in Washington state has exploded from less than 10,000 acres in the year 2000 to nearly 80,000 acres in 2012. According to the USA Dry Pea & Lentil Council, Washington state’s acreage of dry peas, lentils and chickpeas increased 20 percent from 2010 to 2011. A main driver of increased demand for chickpeas in the last decade has been increased demand for hummus. Retail sales of hummus are projected to increase to $250 million in 2013, up from $192 million in 2007 and $5 million in 1997. This increase has supported thousands of jobs in Washington state, including at 22 processors in Eastern Washington.

Other key provisions in the Senate Farm Bill for the state of Washington include:

  • Specialty Crop Research: The bill would for the first time make a long term investment in the Specialty Crop Research Initiative and the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program. WSU has received Specialty Crop Block Grant investments to develop new planting and harvesting methods for tree fruit to help increase crop yields and protect workers. The Economic Research Service estimates that for every $1 invested in publicly funded research, $10 of economic activity is generated.
  • Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program:  The Senate farm bill provides $100 million of mandatory funding over 5 years up from $33 million over 5 years. The program helps improve and expand farmers markets, and local food infrastructure. The Washington State Farmers Market Association in Seattle received a grant in Fiscal Year 2012 to train market managers, support wireless food stamp technology at farmers markets, and study the use of food stamps at farmers markets.
  • Market Access Program: The Senate Farm Bill would invest $200 million a year in MAP, which the Washington Apple Commission has used to reach consumers and businesses in India. These efforts increased the number of Washington apples being sold there from a few thousand cartons to a record 3.3 million cartons worth over $61 million last season.

Washington’s wine industry has also used MAP to boost overseas sales. The Washington State Wine Commission secured MAP investments that helped the commission bring around 65 international wine buyers to Washington state for tours, seminars and tasting. More than 15 countries are usually represented on this tour according to the Washington State Wine Commission. Participating wineries have developed export opportunities in Scandinavia, Canada and China.

Cantwell has consistently supported these programs to help Washington state farmers and producers stay competitive. On July 8, 2012, Cantwell joined local farmers at a farmers’ market in Seattle to highlight the benefits of the Farm Bill for Washington state.