The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a paper jam.
The agency is reviewing more than 132,000 comments on a proposed rule to update school nutrition standards, agency officials said Aug. 15.
USDA Undersecretary Kevin Concannon said that agency has summarized the comments into a document that is 150 pages long and is working hard to have the final rule out by later this year. In addition, Concannon said the agency aims to issue a proposed rule on updated standards for competitive foods sold in schools by the end of the year.
“We are also mindful that there are a number of significant changes for schools, so we are wanting it to be achievable all around,” he said. “We committed to that both to the White House, to the Congress and to schools across the country,” he said.
Concannon said officials were going through the meal pattern in the proposed rule and considering those comments before the agency issued the final rule.
The National Potato Council has garnered some political support in its objections to the proposed update of school nutrition standards.
In comments submitted March 31, the council said that the proposed restriction on starchy vegetables served at school meals in the rule are not necessary to reach nutrient targets, will increase costs for schools, lead to a decrease in the nutritional content and vegetable consumption of school meals.
On Aug. 4. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., sent a letter to also signed by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and six other senators asking Senate agriculture appropriators to consider legislative language that would ensure school districts would have continued access to starchy vegetables.
“We are concerned that if implemented, the proposed rule could seriously and needlessly injure potato, bean, lima bean and pea growers across the country,” the letter said.
The letter noted that the USDA’s proposed rule, issued in January, recommended limiting total servings of starchy vegetables to one cup per week and eliminating potatoes from school breakfasts. The letter said the rule as written could cost states and school districts up to $7 billion over five years.
The letter asked Senate appropriators deny all funds to implement new nutrition standards for school meals if the standards “unnecessarily discriminate” against certain vegetables, including white potatoes, corn, lima beans and peas.