Sebelius, Vilsack Announce Feds’ Plan to Subsidize Fruits and Veggies at Unveiling of New Dietary Guidelines

By Penny Starr | February 1, 2011 | 4:01 AM EST

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said on Monday at George Washington University that the U.S. government will try subsidizing the cost of fruits and vegetables to encourage people on federal assistance to eat more of them. Vilsack spoke an event to unveil the new federal dietary guidelines for Americans. ( Starr)

( – At an event on Monday to unveil the federal government’s new dietary guidelines for Americans, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said that subsidies may be used to encourage people on government assistance to eat more fruits and vegetables. asked the secretaries to explain what was meant by Vilsack’s remarks about incentives to encourage the consumption of more fruits and vegetables.

Vilsack said that a pilot program is in place in Massachusetts to allow participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – or SNAP – to get a discount for buying fruits and vegetables.

“The grocer basically gets paid full value for the fruit or vegetable that’s being purchased but it’s only credited say 70 or 80 percent on the card,” Vilsack said at the event, held at George Washington University. “So it allows the snap beneficiary to expand, if you will, their purchasing power.

“We’ve got a year-long scientific review of this to determine whether or not that actually moves the needle in terms of purchasing decisions,” Vilsack said.

Sebelius said that the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program that provides nutritional foods to low-income pregnant and postpartum women and children up to age 5 now includes fruits and vegetables.

Sebelius also said the federal government wants to make more fruits and vegetables available in “dollar stores” through various programs, including “Communities Putting Prevention to Work.”

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said at the event on Monday at George Washington University that fruits and vegetables are being made available at 'dollar stores' in U.S. cities. ( Starr)

“I know in Louisville they are now subsidizing fruits and vegetables in what are basically dollar stores, to make it much more convenient for people to buy fresh fruits,” Sebelius said.

Programs are being put in place, Vilsack said, at farmers’ markets around the country to allow people on government food assistance programs to use their benefits with those vendors.

The new guidelines – aimed at Americans age 2 and older – includes a recommendation that people reduce daily sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams and 1,500 milligrams daily for people who have diseases such as hypertension or diabetes.

The guidelines, which are required by Congress and are updated, as needed, every five years, also set a 300 milligram limit of cholesterol and encourage people to eat more chicken and fish and to avoid beef, which is defined as a “solid fat.”

The newly designed food pyramid will be unveiled in the coming months, according to a press release distributed at the event.