Congressional interference with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) proposed standards for school meals puts special interests before America’s children.
New language inserted into the agriculture appropriations legislation by Congress will prevent the USDA from setting limits on the amounts of French fries, pizza and salty foods included in school lunch menus. This is a discouraging outcome for children across the country and for parents whose efforts to provide their kids with a nutritious diet will be undermined by special interests who gain financially from supplying schools with unhealthy foods.
The standards recommended by the USDA are replacing grossly outdated ones that are more than a decade behind current nutritional science. With strong evidence-based standards in place, our nation would be well on its way to creating better food choices for school children. But Congress’ amendments will reverse an important achievement and put our children’s nutrition at great risk.
It is a sad fact that this nation’s school-aged children consume too much sodium in their diets — an average of more than 3,000 milligrams each day. Alarmingly, school lunches provide nearly half of that amount in one meal. Yet, the bill’s amendments will prohibit the USDA from requiring schools to reduce the sodium content of the foods they serve by more than 5 percent to 10 percent, stalling efforts to reach the long-term sodium reduction target of 25 percent to 50 percent, recommended by the Institute of Medicine.
In addition, the language will allow the USDA to count the tomato paste used on pizza as a “vegetable,” and forbid the setting of maximum limits on the number of starchy vegetables that can be served weekly, a move that could put French fries on school menus several times a week. These changes will make it more difficult for kids to get the fruits, green and orange vegetables, and whole grains they desperately need in their diets.
Healthy school meals can set children on a lifelong path of learning about and enjoying nutritious foods. Congress needs to remember the strong support parents have shown for the proposed USDA standards, and take special interests off the school lunch menus of American’s children.