Nutrition Services Division Information Alert
To: School Nutrition Programs
Attention: Food Service Directors and Business Officials
|Date: November 2007|
|Subject: Policy Considerations for Child Nutrition Programs: Organic Produce and Cage-Free Eggs|
This Information Alert provides information in response to some inquiries about organically-grown produce, cage-free eggs, and other specialized food products that may be offered as components of the Farm to School Program and other Child Nutrition Programs. We hope that this information helps to inform your local policy decisions.
Given the complex variety of food products available in the United States, some food product labels or definitions can be confusing. The following information seeks to provide some clarification and resources regarding policy decisions that affect child nutrition program purchasing practices.
- Certified organic produce is grown without using most conventional pesticides, fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge, bioengineering, or ionizing radiation. Before a product can be labeled "organic," a government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer follows all the rules necessary to meet United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) organic standards. Companies that handle or process organic food before it gets to a supermarket or restaurant must be certified as well. (Agricultural Marketing Service/USDA)
- Cage-free eggs come from hens living in indoor floor facilities such as barns or warehouses (Egg Nutrition Center). They may not have access to the outdoors but can engage in many natural behaviors such as walking, nesting, pecking, and spreading their wings. The term is approved by the Food Safety Inspection Service of the USDA. The Humane Society of the United States advocates for the production and consumption of cage-free eggs.
- Farm to School Programs connect schools with local farms with the objective of serving healthy meals in school cafeterias, improving student nutrition, providing health and nutrition education opportunities, and supporting local small farmers. Through a Farm to School Program, schools buy and feature farm fresh foods such as fruits, vegetables, eggs, honey, meat and beans; incorporate nutrition and agriculture-based curricula; and provide students experiential learning opportunities through farm visits, gardening and recycling programs. Farmers have access to new markets through schools and connect to their community through local procurement opportunities and student educational programs.
Currently, demand exceeds supply for both certified organic produce and cage-free eggs. Organically-grown produce can cost more than the same type of produce grown conventionally. Similarly, cage-free eggs can cost more than other eggs. Given this, Child Nutrition Program directors interested in offering these products will want to consider the overall fiscal impact on the food service budget due to higher prices. In addition, limited availability on the market may impact procurement opportunities.
Just as some school districts are interested in establishing Farm to School Programs or offering students organically-grown food or cage-free eggs, there is no clear-cut answer to some of the issues that arise. School districts will want to weigh overall cost considerations against ethics, safety, community sentiment, and other key factors when establishing food procurement practices within their overall food and nutrition policies.
If you have any questions, please contact Brenda Padilla, Assistant Director, Nutrition Services Division at 916-323-5063 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. You may also contact Carol Chase, Nutrition Education Administrator, Nutrition Services Division, at 916-322-1566 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
For additional information, we have included the following resources, some of which were referenced throughout this Alert.
Egg Nutrition Center. “Specialty Eggs.” 2004.
http://www.enc-online.org/Specialty_Eggs.pdf [Note, this Web address is no longer valid.]
"Fruits and Vegetables Galore: Helping Kids Eat More.”
Food and Nutrition Service, United States Department of Agriculture,
Alexandria, VA: FNS-365.
The Humane Society of the United States,
2100 L Street,
NW, Washington, DC 20037.
National Farm to School Program.
Managed by the Center for Food & Justice, Occidental College, Los Angeles, CA. 323-341-5095.
“Organic Food Standards and Labels: The Facts.”
The National Organic Program, Agricultural Marketing Service, United States Department of Agriculture. http://www.ams.usda.gov/nop/Consumers/brochure.html
Severson, Kim. “Suddenly, the hunt is on for cage-free eggs.” The Davis Enterprise.
New York Times News Service. 14 August 2007. Vol 111, No. 190.