USA Today is reporting that the federal government will soon be proposing new nutrition standards for school vending machines, stores, and cafeteria lines that have the cranberry industry, in particular, in a panic.
Spurred by first lady Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" initiative, USA Today explains, cranberry juice is particularly in the crosshairs because it is so heavily sweetened. The result could mean an exclusion from $2.3 billion in the school vending machine business, and a negative connotation with cranberry products that could impact marketing, industry officials say.
"Lumping us in with other beverages [like soda] that don't have the health benefits associated with them that cranberries do is definitely going to affect our ability to sell [our] products," Tom Lochner, executive director of the Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association, explained.
Randy Papadellis, president and CEO of Ocean Spray Cranberries Inc., similarly said: "Our concern is more the signal...that says cranberries are unhealthy sends out to other constituencies. Many people take their cue from USDA in terms of what is healthy."
And unlike soda, which has seen similar bans, the industry is pointing out that cranberries have some nutritional value. A letter to the first lady pointed out that cranberries "contribute to whole body health, particularly urinary tract health and the potential to fight cancer and other diseases," but not everyone is sold on the matter.
Margo Wootan, the director of nutrition policy for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said: "There's some evidence to show that cranberry juice can prevent urinary tract infections, but that doesn't mean everyone should be drinking cranberry juice every day...Only 3 percent of kids a year have urinary tract infections, compared to one-third who are overweight. Urinary tract infection is not a booming epidemic. Obesity is."
Here's a commercial for one of the drinks that could be pulled:
And as everyone knows, such regulations often start out small and then radiate outwards. Within weeks of Mayor Bloomberg's New York City "soda ban," two other cities eyed similar measures and movie theater popcorn was analyzed for a similar restriction.
And it's not just cranberry juice that faces the chopping block--if the department follows its earlier guidelines, only 100 percent juice beverages would be allowed in vending machines and school stores, Wootan said.
Numerous websites have already parodied the possible change. Gawker published an article titled "Michelle Obama's War on Cranberries," and commenter Art Demartini wrote: "First the left targets "evil" oil, now cranberry juice. There is no end to their madness."