(UPDATED COVERAGE, Nov. 18) Pizza and french fries are apparently safe from efforts to reform nutrition standards for school meals, but some critics say classifying pizza as a vegetable is the same as President Ronald Reagan’s attempt to classify ketchup as a vegetable.
Lawmakers who wrote the conference report for fiscal year 2012 U.S. Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration appropriations also reaffirmed their support for potatoes and prohibited limits on servings of any vegetable.
The legislation, which passed the House and the Senate on Nov. 17, increases funding for the Women Infants and Children nutrition program to $6.6 billion, $570 million above the House-passed level and $36 million more than the Senate.
“We’re happy about the WIC increase,” said Lorelei DiSogra, vice president of nutrition and health for the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association.
DiSogra said the updated school nutrition guidelines still deliver a win for children and the industry.
Ray Gilmer, vice president of communications for United Fresh, said Nov. 17 it was unknown if counting tomato paste — event on pizza — as a vegetable would decrease mandates for inclusion of fresh vegetables.
“At the end of the day, we are going to have more fruits and vegetables served to kids,” he said.
“If there is a little more tomato paste or a little more pizza crust involved, that’s part of the bargain you make to create greater access,” he said.
The conference language shouldn’t derail USDA’s effort to put out an interim final rule soon, he said. Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy for the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Science in the Public Interest, said it was unfortunate that the USDA could not get a tougher standard for tomato paste that had proposed earlier this year.
“This is about companies continuing to promote and sell pizza as a vegetable,” she said.
Wootan said characterizing pizza as a vegetable is “even more ridiculous” than the Reagan administration’s attempt to call ketchup a vegetable.
The conference legislation contains provisions that restrict funding to the USDA if it tries to implement any final rule that sets maximum limits on the servings of vegetables in school meal programs.
“I think that Congress pushed USDA toward some common-sense changes in the meal plan,” said John Keeling, president of the National Potato Council, Washington, D.C.
Wootan said the updated school nutrition standards will still be positive for fruits and vegetables, but not as good as they could have been.