Democratic lawmakers and fresh produce advocates expressed dismay at what some called a rollback of nutrition standards.
The 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.
“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.
Critics didn’t see it that way.
The fiscal year 2015 spending bill approved by the subcommittee “unwinds” the landmark Child Nutrition law and undermines the health of school children, Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said in a statement.
“We will continue to fight any rollback that jeopardizes our children’s health,” Tom Stenzel, president of United Fresh Produce Association, said in a statement.
He called on Congress to remove the opt-out language during the appropriations process. The Senate agriculture appropriations subcommittee will meet May 22 to consider its own legislation published May 20. A summary of the Senate legislation does not mention waivers.
Stenzel said that 91% of U.S. schools are already complying with updated nutrition standards.
“Congress should focus on helping those schools that may face challenges in implementing the standards, not creating an ‘opt-out’ clause just because some find it difficult,” he said. “This is unfair to those thousands of schools across the country who are doing a great job and providing healthier meals to their students.”
Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., a member of the agriculture appropriations subcommittee, said the legislation would bypass standards that improve school meals and remove unhealthy snacks in schools.
“Why would Congress, already maligned for labeling pizza a vegetable — and I know something about pizza — now seek to weaken federal child nutrition programs, and through the appropriations process no less, other than to appease the industry?”
DeLauro also expressed concern that the subcommittee underfunded the Food and Drug Administration and said she was troubled by the legislation’s inclusion of white potatoes in the Women Infants and Children program.
“Science-based decisions have served our children and our nation well for decades, and Congress has never before prescribed the details of federal nutrition programs,” she said in a statement. “Fresh white potatoes are not currently included because the research shows white potatoes are not lacking in the diets of low income women and children.”