The final version of a spending bill released late Monday would unravel school lunch standards the Agriculture Department proposed earlier this year. These include limiting the use of potatoes on the lunch line, putting new restrictions on sodium and boosting the use of whole grains. The legislation would block or delay all of those efforts.
The bill also would allow tomato paste on pizzas to be counted as a vegetable, as it is now. USDA had wanted to only count a half-cup of tomato paste or more as a vegetable, and a serving of pizza has less than that.
Nutritionists say the whole effort is reminiscent of the Reagan administration's much-ridiculed attempt 30 years ago to classify ketchup as a vegetable to cut costs. This time around, food companies that produce frozen pizzas for schools, the salt industry and potato growers requested the changes and lobbied Congress.
School meals that are subsidized by the federal government must include a certain amount of vegetables, and USDA's proposal could have pushed pizza-makers and potato growers out of the school lunch business.
Piling on to the companies' opposition, some members of Congress argue that the federal government shouldn't tell children what to eat. In a summary of the bill, Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee said the changes would "prevent overly burdensome and costly regulations and ...provide greater flexibility for local school districts to improve the nutritional quality of meals."
Bonnie - If the taxpayer is paying for these meals, they should be healthy! The government SHOULD dictate exactly what should be consumed as to not put more of a healthcare burden on taxpayers with higher rates of obesity, diabetes, and chronic disease. My God...the health of school-aged children has been deemed a national security issue by the armed forces generals.
This is pure, unadulterated, outrageous cronyism. At least this person from the USDA has some perspective:
USDA spokeswoman Courtney Rowe said that the department will continue its efforts to make lunches healthier.
"While it's unfortunate that some members of Congress continue to put special interests ahead of the health of America's children, USDA remains committed to practical, science-based standards for school meals," she said in a statement.