Draft language released by the House Appropriations Committee that gives schools a chance to opt out of federal nutrition standards if they claim hardship is a backward step for millions of kids, produce and nutrition advocates say.
The House Appropriations subcommittee on agriculture will review its proposed 2015 appropriations bill in a May 20 hearing slated for 10 a.m. Eastern.
In a news release from the committee, lawmakers said they were responding to the requests of local schools when they included language requiring the U.S. Department of Agriculture to establish a process that will allow schools demonstrating an economic hardship to seek a temporary waiver from compliance with certain nutrition regulations during the 2014-15 school year.
Congress shouldn’t shortchange students a half a cup of fruits and vegetables in their school meals through the appropriations process, said Ray Gilmer, vice president of issues management and communication for the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association,
Tom Stenzel, United Fresh president, penned letters May 16 to lawmakers in both the House and Senate about school nutrition standards, asking the appropriators to leave the fruit and vegetables requirements untouched.
“Together with leaders of the public health community and moms and dads across America, we are appalled at the suggestion that somehow Congress should now intervene to block USDA’s commitment to children taking one-half cup of fruits and vegetables as a component of school lunch and breakfast,” Stenzel said in the letter. “One-half cup? Really, that is too big a burden to support children’s health? How can anyone truly call it a “meal” without at least one-half cup of a fruit or vegetable?”
Gilmer said May 19 that United Fresh staffers were hand-delivering the letters and half-cup measures labeled with the message “Keep half a cup for the kids” to the offices of lawmakers in both the House and Senate.
The House draft appropriations language “blows a huge hole through the school lunch standards,” said Tracy Fox, president of Food, Nutrition & Policy Consultants LLC.
She said 90% of schools have already adopted the updated nutrition standards and are receiving increased reimbursements from the USDA because they are complying with the new rules.
“I think (the House action) is disguised as flexibility, but it is pretty much unraveling the school meal standards,” she said.