Child Nutrition Standards in Jeopardy

Kayla Kitson, U.S. Poverty Intern
June 03, 2014

As Congress works on Appropriations bills for Fiscal Year 2015, the nutrition standards for federal school meals programs are at risk of being weakened.  The standards were significantly strengthened with the enactment of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, leading to regulations requiring more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and restricting fat, trans fat, sodium, and caloric content.  However, the House Appropriations Committee approved an FY 2015 Agriculture Appropriations bill on May 29 that allows waivers of the standards to be granted to schools that experience a financial burden as a result of implementing the regulations.

Proponents of the waivers claim that the nutrition standards pose an undue financial burden on schools by requiring them to purchase higher quality (and often higher priced) food and that they create more “plate waste,” where students throw away unwanted food items.  Tom Vilsack, Secretary of the USDA, which administers the school meal programs, countered that there are already grants and technical assistance available for struggling schools and that schools are actually receiving more funding than they were prior to the enactment of the new standards.  He also said that “plate waste” has been a problem since before the new regulations and has not increased.  Additionally, Vilsack commented that a waiver process would be extremely difficult to implement.  First Lady Michelle Obama also expressed concern about the prospect of scaling back the nutrition standards, arguing that this will undermine progress toward reducing childhood obesity and improving children’s health.

The Senate Agriculture Appropriations bill, approved by the Appropriations Committee on May 22, does not contain a provision for waivers to schools, but does allow for delays or exceptions to specific nutritional standards pending further research or report by the USDA.  The full House is likely to consider the Agriculture bill in the next few weeks.  RESULTS opposes congressional efforts to weaken nutrition standards in school meals and other food assistance programs.

Sources:

House bill: http://appropriations.house.gov/uploadedfiles/bills-113hr-fc-ap-fy2015-ap00-agriculture.pdf

House Approps report: http://appropriations.house.gov/uploadedfiles/hrpt-113-hr-fy2015-agriculture.pdf

Senate bill: http://www.appropriations.senate.gov/sites/default/files/hearings/Ag%20Bill%20BILLS-113s2389pcs.pdf

NYT article: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/30/us/politics/house-committee-votes-to-allow-schools-to-opt-out-of-nutritional-program.html?_r=0

NYT op-ed: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/29/opinion/michelle-obama-on-attempts-to-roll-back-healthy-reforms.html?hp&rref=opinion

NPR story: http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2014/05/30/317161292/health-advocates-lament-gop-move-to-relax-school-lunch-rules