United Fresh Produce Association leaders praised the U.S. Senate’s passing of a child nutrition bill that boosts fresh fruit and vegetable consumption in school meals.
On Aug. 5, senators unanimously passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. Tom Stenzel, president of Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh, said the bill provides a clear road map for healthier school meals and gives children better access to fresh and healthy produce.
“It’s always an effort to increase the health of school meals but the idea of tying this increase to fruits and vegetables is the key accomplishment,” he said. “It’s something the industry has worked on for a long time. This is big but it’s not done. The Senate passing it means it is halfway there. I want to be as motivational to the industry that OK, now is the time to push this thing all the way to the finish line.”
Marking the first increase in the school lunch reimbursement rate in 40 years, the bill follows United Fresh’s recommendations and also funds increased training to help schools serve healthier meals, Stenzel said.
The Senate bill, which increases school lunch reimbursement rates by $.06 per lunch, must be reconciled with legislation in the House of Representatives, whose members have only approved similar legislation at the committee level.
The timing of that reconciliation is critical because it is scheduled to occur when lawmakers return to Washington on Sept. 13, before the opening of United Fresh’s Sept. 14-16 Washington Public Policy Conference.
Stenzel said he plans to motivate United Fresh members to thank senators and urge House support during the Sept. 15 produce industry Day on the Hill Capitol Hill visits.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture plans to issue new dietary guidelines and publish revised school meal regulations before the end of the year, said Lorelei DiSogra, United Fresh’s vice president of nutrition and health.
“All of us can celebrate this one milestone but we still have to get it out of the House and to the president’s desk before the end of September,” she said. “There is a lot of very important legislation and policies that will make a big difference in terms of increasing fruit and vegetable usage in school meals.”
Other organizations issued news releases supporting the bill, which was led by Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark, the chairwoman of the senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee.
The American Heart Association said the senate has “brought us closer to raising the nutritional quality of school meals” and that the measure will “ensure that high-calorie drinks and junk foods sold in schools are out of children’s reach” and should increase physical activity opportunities through improved school wellness policies.
DiSogra also commended First Lady Michelle Obama for her advocacy of reducing childhood obesity.