All of North Carolina’s public schools, colleges and universities would have to offer students muscadine grape juice under a bill that has advanced to the N.C. House chamber.
House Bill 136 has Rep. Julia Howard, R-Davie, as lead primary sponsor.
“It’s one of the good things we can do for the growers and producers in this state to make this product available in our schools,” Howard said. “It is the state fruit.”
The bill, which has cleared the House K-12 Education and Agriculture committees, has the support of the N.C. Agriculture Department.
If HB136 is signed into law, the mandate would begin with the 2021-22 school year.
According to online legislative media outlet NC Insider, Howard was asked during the K-12 committee meeting about what happens if muscadine grape juice isn’t selected by enough students to warrant being an option.
Those members were concerned about who would be responsible for the inventory costs if muscadine grape juice proved unpopular.
“If the kids would stop and try this, they would prefer it over apple and orange juice,” she told committee members.
The bill would require the State Board of Education, local boards of education and charter schools to mandate that all public K-12 schools provide muscadine grape juice.
Not only would the schools’ nutrition and lunch programs have to offer muscadine grape juice, but also school vending machines.
Public community colleges and universities would be required to offer muscadine grape juice in on-campus vending machines.
Davie is the home of Mighty Muscadine of Advance, which is affiliated with Le Bleu bottled water, and Vine Life Products of Bermuda Run, both of which promote muscadine grapes for food, health and wellness purposes.
Mighty Muscadine is owned by Jerry Smith. Smith provided Howard with a $2,700 political donation in 2016, according to opensecrets.org.
Muscadine grapes are grown primarily in eastern North Carolina. They also are used in jellies, jams, preserves, syrups and dessert toppings.
Muscadine grape juice would be added to the state’s “Got to be NC” farm-to-school marketing program. The Scuppernong grape, a variation of the muscadine grape, is the state’s official fruit.
The bill touts muscadine grape juice as “not needing added sugar” and “rich in healthy antioxidants.”
The website usualwines.com cautions that “the wine is packed full of sugar. These sugars are not naturally occurring — they are added throughout the production process to balance the natural bitterness of the grape.”
The N.C. Wine and Grape Council touts several health and nutritional benefits of muscadine grapes, some of which share with the benefits of moderate consumption of wine.
Those includes: being fat free and high in fiber; assisting with weight control and lowering cholesterol levels; inhibiting the growth of some forms of cancer; and slowing the aging of skin.