Press Release

IFPA CEO Cathy Burns Takes the Stage at AgriPulse 2023 Food & Ag Policy Summit to Discuss Food as Medicine and Produce Prescriptions

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March 21, 2023

Washington, DC - Cathy Burns, CEO of The International Fresh Produce Association, the largest and most diverse international association serving the entire global fresh produce and floral supply chain, took the stage at the AgriPulse 2023 Food & Ag Policy Summit in Washington, D.C., today to discuss food as medicine and produce prescriptions.

“Eighty percent of healthcare dollars in this country are allocated to preventable chronic disease, yet nine out of 10 Americans don’t meet the government’s own recommendations for fruit and vegetable consumption,” said Burns. “There is a clear and significant role for food interventions in the healthcare system. The time to act is now because if we don’t change the trajectory of how this next generation eats, they will be the first generation that doesn’t live as long as its parents.”

Produce prescriptions are a practical and scalable solution that are already demonstrating positive outcomes through federally funded pilot programs. “You go to the doctor, you get a diagnosis, and they give you a prescription for fruits and vegetables to treat your condition. Imagine a world where your diagnosis is being treated by what’s on your plate, not by what’s in a pill,” said Burns. “This could be transformational for the trajectory of human health in this country.”

Produce prescriptions have the possibility to impact a significant percent of the population: 150 million Americans are covered by federal healthcare when you factor in Medicare, Medicaid, Children's Health Insurance Program, the Department of Veterans Affairs, Indian Health Service and others. “If you take Medicare alone, we can approximate that around 30 million enrollees would be eligible to participate due to diet-related disease and food insecurity. Assuming a modest $40 per month for a produce prescription benefit per person, this could translate to $14.4 billion dollars annually in fruits and vegetables just in Medicare. If you replicate that across federal healthcare systems and then have private insurers mimic that because they see the benefits, we are talking about something transformational,” said Burns

Two practitioners who are making produce prescriptions a reality joined Burns on the panel. Steve Brazeel, the founder of SunTerra products and a grower who is working with Medi-Cal to fill and deliver their produce prescriptions, discussed his company’s work with health care professionals and patients to develop and deliver medically tailored grocery boxes. Josh Trautwein, the co-founder and CEO of About Fresh, which developed the Fresh Connect produce prescription debit card, works with healthcare teams to enable patients to buy fresh produce in grocery stores. Together, the panelists discussed how to scale the already existing programs to reach more patients in need.

In her remarks, Burns touched on some of those existing programs, noting that there are already insurers committed to produce prescription pilot programs. “Four states are already running produce prescriptions through Medicaid: California, North Carolina, Oregon and Massachusetts. At the federal level, Indian Health Service and the VA have both committed to doing produce prescription pilots, thanks to Representative Chellie Pingree’s (D-ME) leadership on that front.”

There is an opportunity to move funds from those federal programs to produce prescriptions. “That’s how we’ll scale and, and it does good all around. The easiest way to help farmers and grow their prosperity is to sell more produce. And by the way, we also feed into the trajectory of changing human health. This is a place where we are going to have to push.”

Burns called on Congress, state governments, and the private sector to invest in produce prescriptions. “We know we can’t fund produce prescriptions long-term through USDA or the Farm Bill, resources just aren’t there. But the important role these pilots play while we’re still in this growth phase is testing models,” she said. “Our ask this Farm Bill is to maintain that 10% towards produce prescriptions and fund projects that test in clinical settings so that we can get the data needed to show positive health outcomes for healthcare to scale on its own. And while that is happening, outside the scope of the Farm Bill, we need states to take advantage of these Medicaid 1115 waivers to use food based intervention in their states.”

When asked whether pharmaceutical companies are threatened by investments in produce prescriptions, Burns responded that she sees opportunities to collaborate. “Only 1 in 10 Americans are eating the proper amount of fruits and vegetables. The gap is so large, I can’t wait for the day that they think we are a competitor.”

IFPA has long been an industry leader on food as medicine and produce prescriptions, which it called for as part of its Fruit and Vegetable Moonshot. The Moonshot is an eight-point plan for a national nutrition strategy that IFPA presented to the White House ahead of its Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health. The White House e.

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