(UPDATED,  2:15 p.m.) With high stakes for fruit and vegetable marketers, the Senate Agriculture Committee will put its mark on legislation that will reauthorize child nutrition programs on Sept. 17.
The School Nutrition Association is lobbying to end the current requirement that students must take a half a cup or fruits or vegetables with breakfast and lunch, arguing that the mandate has led to waste and added costs.
The United Fresh Produce Association and other nutrition advocacy groups are fighting to preserve the half cup mandate.
"United Fresh, working together with our allies in the produce industry and nutrition community, will remind Congress "how can you call it a meal if it doesn"t have at least a ½ cup of fruit or vegetable? Shouldn"t the Dietary Guidelines recommendation to "make half your plate fruits and vegetables start at school?"," United Fresh said on its website.
Agriculture Committee chairman Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan.,announced the markup session in a news release July 27, pledging to work with ranking member Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., for a bipartisan package that boost "efficiency, effectiveness, flexibility and integrity" of the program.
"We must reauthorize these programs so children across America can and will have healthy meals available at school," Roberts said in the release. "Unfortunately, there are significant error rates and improper payment levels in school meal programs. We need to improve the administration of these programs to reduce errors but do so in a way that does not layer additional federal bureaucracy and overreach on those feeding hungry schoolchildren."
While not detailing specifics of his intentions for the bill, Roberts said he wants flexibility in the reauthorization legislation.
Stabenow said in a statement that Congress must move forward with improvements in nutrition programs, with a goal of being finished by the end of September. "This year"s bill gives us an opportunity to build on those standards in addition to strengthening after school and summer meals, expanding opportunities for kids to have healthy, local foods, and protecting critical assistance to pregnant mothers and babies through WIC," she said in the statement.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement he is pleased Congress is moving ahead with reauthorizing the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. Vilsack said 95% school districts have successfully implemented updated nutrition standards.
"Kids are eating healthier because of it, and childhood obesity rates are beginning to level off after years of dramatic growth. Kids themselves overwhelmingly approve of the healthier options now available at school, with a recent study from the University of California, Berkeley"s School of Public Health finding that nearly 90 percent of surveyed students like the new menu offerings," Vilsack said in the statement. "With so much at stake for our children"s future, It is imperative that we maintain this progress, and not go backward."