Congressional legislators recently blocked a proposal by the USDA to improve the nutritional quality of the nation’s school lunches.
The proposed changes included more fruits and vegetables, limiting sodium and starchy foods like potatoes, and an end to allowing tomato paste on pizzas to be classified as a vegetable.
The changes would have been the first in 15 years, and would have altered the method schools receive credit for serving more fresh food and less processed items.
The USDA’s proposal surfaced at the beginning of the year and was based on recommendations issued by the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine; the recommendations were designed to offer nutritious school meals that are also low in calories from fat.
The USDA claimed the proposed changes would have amounted to an additional 14 cents for the cost of a school lunch, or $6.8 billion over five years.
According to the Republican-led House Appropriation Committee, the USDA proposal was blocked “to prevent burdensome and costly regulations and to provide greater flexibility for local school districts to improve the nutritional quality of meals”.
Not surprisingly, the food industry lauded the decision. National Potato Council CEO John Keeling told the New York Times:
“This is an important step for the school districts, parents and taxpayers who would shoulder the burden of USDA’s proposed $6.8 billion school meal regulation that will not increase the delivery of key nutrients.”
A November 15 statement of the lobbying group American Frozen Foods Institute commends Congress for its balanced approach. “This agreement improves childhood nutrition by providing school nutritionists the ability to serve healthy foods kids enjoy while avoiding burdening schools with massive new costs.”
WSWS writer Naomi Spencer notes major food corporations, including Coca-Cola, Del Monte, the salt industry, frozen pizza-producers ConAgra and Schwan’s and other manufacturers of processed foods objected to USDA proposed regulations, claiming they would raise costs and mandate food children would only end up throwing away in the trash.
The current 15-year-old guidelines will remain; pizza and French fries will continue to be classified as vegetables, and schools will not be required to increase the amount of whole grains or fresh produce served.
As Spencer points out, “Over the past several decades, the percentage of children and adolescents who are obese has more than tripled. The CDC reports that one in three Americans aged 6-19 years old are overweight or obese. Rates of childhood diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, asthma, and other associated health problems are also on the rise.”