Senator challenges USDA over potatoes in school meals

09/09/2011 08:02:00 AM
Chris Koger

$imgObj.altTextThe spud squabble isn’t over yet.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, has delayed an amendment that would challenge the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s proposal to limit potatoes in school meals.

The Senate Appropriations Committee passed the fiscal year 2012 agriculture/FDA appropriation bill Sept. 7 without the amendment, but Collins said she may offer it when the full Senate considers the bill.

John Keeling, president of the National Potato Council, Washington, D.C., said he has not seen the language of the potential Collins amendment. He said there is uncertainty about whether the appropriations bill will be considered by the full Senate.

“The good news is that she, in a very forceful way, is raising some serious issues about the school meal plan, and that is that it incurs unnecessary costs to improve school nutrition and it does it in great part by limiting the schools’ flexibility and particularly their flexibility to serve potatoes in nutritious forms,” Keeling said Sept. 8.

Along with industry leaders, Collins and other lawmakers have consistently expressed concern about cutting starchy vegetables, including potatoes, in school meals. In a letter earlier this year to USDA Undersecretary of Food and Nutrition Services Kevin Concannon, Collins said the USDA is “discouraging the consumption of a vegetable that is both inexpensive and highly nutritious.”

Keeling said registered dietitians have confirmed that schools can meet or exceed nutritional levels in the school meal plan with 7 cents less per meal by allowing potatoes back in the mix.

The Senate only has until the end of September to pass the bill and work with the House version before the start of fiscal 2012 in October.

There are differences between the House and Senate appropriations bills. The agriculture/FDA spending bill approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee totaled $19.8 billion, up substantially from the $17.1 billion approved by the House.

The committee-passed bill provided $6.58 billion for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Domestic Nutrition, compared with $6.73 billion in fiscal year 2011. The bill also included $2.5 billion for the Food and Drug Administration, up from $2.44 billion in fiscal year 2011.

The House agriculture appropriations bill suggests that the USDA make another attempt at revising school nutrition standards in a way that is cost-neutral.



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