Senate committee upholds nutrition standardsTwo days after the House of Representatives subcommittee on agricultural appropriations created a way for schools to opt out of recently revised school nutrition standards, their counterparts on the Senate appropriations committee voted to uphold the requirement that schools serve at least one half-cup of fruits and vegetables in school meals.

The issue was not settled yet, but industry advocates were hopeful the Senate’s treatment of the issue would prevail as fiscal year 2015 agriculture appropriations legislation is reconciled in the weeks ahead.

The House subcommittee on May 20 approved legislation allowing states to disregard nutrition standards if school districts lose money on school meals for six months, beginning last July. The National Harbor, Md.-based School Nutrition Association has asked Congress to revise various aspects of school nutrition regulations, including the requirement that schools serve at least one half-cup of fruits and vegetables in reimbursable school meals.

“For schools suffering economic hardship and needing more time to implement and adjust to the new standards, this waiver gives them that flexibility schools are asking us to provide,” said Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., chairman of the House agricultural appropriations subcommittee, in a statement.

But on May 22, Senate appropriations committee members upheld the standards for minimum fruit and vegetable servings but did allow flexibility in the regulations for schools to adopt new standards on sodium and whole grain products.

Senate lawmakers also asked USDA to create a master plan to show how they will provide technical assistance to schools implementing new nutrition standards.

The bipartisan compromises reached in the Senate make more sense than just giving schools a way to opt out because the new standards are hard to meet, said Tom Stenzel, president of the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association.

“We’re going to be working to help the School Nutrition Association and all the schools around the country learn how to buy produce, procure it, hold it and serve it to kids in a way of having kids love more produce,” Stenzel said May 22.

Another hearing of the House of Representatives full appropriations committee on May 29 could allow a potential reversal of the opt-out language in the House appropriations bill, Stenzel said.

“We encourage something very similar (to the Senate), a sensible compromise,” Stenzel said. “Let’s get this behind us and move on getting kids healthier foods.”

Both the House and Senate appropriations committees instructed the USDA’s Women Infants and Children program to allow fresh white potatoes into the fruit and vegetable voucher program.

The exclusion of white potatoes has been in place since 2009. The Washington, D.C.-based National Potato Council expressed appreciation for lawmakers who supported the effort to remove the ban.