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Public Statements

Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2012

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mrs. SCHMIDT. Mr. Chairman, I move to strike the last word.

The Acting CHAIR. The gentlewoman from Ohio is recognized for 5 minutes.

Mrs. SCHMIDT. Mr. Chairman, a few moments ago my friend from California had an amendment that she did withdraw that really wanted to codify into law the USDA's rules regarding the school lunch program. And while I won't go into the lengthy reasons why it's the wrong way to go for nutrition--not just the cost that it bears to the schools, but also the fact that USDA was recommending reducing the consumption of potatoes, corn, peas and lima beans to just one serving a week--which believe me I was shocked. But it wasn't just myself that had this reaction; it was also the California Fruit Growers Association, it was the National School Boards Association, it was the Council of the Great City Schools that wrote a letter. And that's why I and 40 other colleagues wrote to Mr. Vilsack of the U.S. Department of Agriculture in reaction to the promulgation of these rules.

I will enter into the Record the testimony I was going to give until she withdrew the amendment, as well as these four letters.

* [Begin Insert]

Mr. Chair, I rise in opposition to this amendment. Breakfasts and lunches served in schools are important components of the diets of school age children. Improving the nutritional profile of meals served to school children is very important.

When the USDA proposed a rule that eliminated potatoes from the School Breakfast program and limited the School Lunch program to one cup a week of potatoes, I was very concerned.

On the Agriculture Committee, I have made it frequently known how important healthy living and nutritious eating habits are to me as a person, a mother, a grandmother and as a legislator. It is especially near and dear to my heart when we discuss policies that affect children's nutritional needs.

When I heard that the USDA recommended reducing the consumption of potatoes, corn, peas, and lima beans--I was shocked.

When my daughter was growing up, I took great care to ensure that she ate healthy, balanced meals. Of course, potatoes were a part of that equation. You all know that they are full of potassium, vitamins C and B6, potassium, fiber, and antioxidants. I cannot understand why the USDA would want to reduce school children's consumption of potatoes.

I think that it is short sighted for the USDA to ignore the health benefits that the potato provides. When looking at how to incentivize healthier eating habits, we in Congress need to find a way to encourage and educate program recipients to eat balanced meals.

I think it is very important to make sure that children receive balanced meals, and that certainly includes potatoes.

I, along with forty-one of my colleagues sent a letter to the USDA asking a number of questions about this proposed rule. Mr. Speaker, without objections, I would like to submit a copy of this letter to the Record.

Mr. Chair, potatoes, lima beans, peas, and corn are all healthy vegetables that should certainly be in the School Breakfast and Lunch Programs.

Potatoes are an excellent source of potassium and good source of fiber. According to the USDA's own magazine, Amber Waves, potatoes deliver these nutrients at a very low cost.

FNS has estimated that the proposed rule would increase the cost of school meals by $6.8 billion over the next five years. Per meal, the cost will increase by 14 cents per lunch and fifty cents per breakfast.

Mr. Chair, school districts and states across the country are already cash-strapped and cannot afford this increased cost.

This additional burden will be passed onto students paying full price for their meals.

While I agree with the intent of the USDA to encourage the consumption of more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins--restricting the consumption of nutritious vegetables like potatoes, lima beans, peas, and corn is short-sighted and not the most effective approach to achieve that goal.

I encourage my colleagues to vote no on this amendment and instruct the USDA to issue a new proposed rule on implementing the new national nutrition standards for the School Breakfast and School Lunch Programs.

* [End Insert]

CALIFORNIA LEAGUE OF

FOOD PROCESSORS,

Sacramento, CA, June 15, 2011.
Hon. LYNN WOOLSEY,
Rayburn House Office Building, House of Representatives, Washington, DC.

DEAR REPRESENTATIVE WOOLSEY: The California League of Food Processors (CLFP) respectfully opposes your amendment to the FY 2012 Agriculture Appropriations bill, H.R. 2112, prevent the Agriculture Department from reissuing more reasonable and cost effective proposed regulations on the school breakfast and lunch program.

CLFP has concerns about USDA recommending school breakfast programs eliminate "starchy vegetables'' and proposing restrictions on the use of tomato paste and cheese. As I'm sure you remember CLFP members account for 95% of the fruits and vegetables canned, frozen and dehydrated/dried in California and this represents more than 35% of U.S. production. For a number of preserved food products, California produces 100% of U.S. output, for example tomato paste. These new USDA restrictions could potentially mean the loss of millions of dollars in sales of vegetables, fruit and cheese to the national school program. Its negative effects would ripple throughout the industry, from farmers, dairymen, package manufacturers, etc. The cost impact of this rule on our schools and food producers should be considered by USDA. Affirmative changes to the meal plan relative to starchy vegetables limits and tomato serving calculations would go a long way to fixing the cost issues that are concerning to schools.

CLFP supports your efforts to help ensure school kids have access to healthy and nutritious meals. However, we urge you to allow USDA to ensure the new rule on school meals is cost neutral and resist efforts by USDA to proclaim vegetables and other healthy foods "good'' or "bad''.

Very Truly Yours,

Ed Yates,
President and CEO,

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NATIONAL SCHOOL

BOARDS ASSOCIATION,

Alexandria, VA, June 14, 2011.
Re: H.R. 2112--FY 2012 Agriculture Appropriations Bill.

MEMBER,
House of Representatives, Washington, DC.

DEAR REPRESENTATIVE: The National School Boards Association (NSBA), representing over 90,000 local school board members across the Nation, is deeply committed to fostering a healthy and positive learning environment for children to achieve their full potential. However, NSBA is gravely concerned about the financial impact of the recent child nutrition reauthorization (P.L. 111-296) on school districts at a time when many are in dire economic straits. Therefore, NSBA supports report language accompanying the FY 2012 Agriculture Appropriations bill that directs the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to propose new rules that do not create unfunded mandates for school districts.

For example, the USDA estimates a cost increase of 14 cents per school lunch under new proposed standards for school meal programs, even though the available reimbursement increase is just 6 cents. A district serving free and reduced price lunches to 5,000 students faces a potential shortfall of $72,000 annually under this scenario. The Department recommends a number of cost-shifting measures to address the shortfall (such as increased student payments, increased state and local funding, and operational changes), that are unrealistic and unconscionable given the current economic realities for many states and communities.

School districts have already closed buildings, terminated programs and laid off teachers due to eroding local, state, and federal resources. Every dollar in unfunded mandates in the child nutrition reauthorization must come from somewhere else in the educational system and result in more layoffs, larger class sizes, narrowing of the curriculum, elimination of after-school programs, and cuts to other program areas, including school food services.

The new meal standards are just one of many provisions of P.L. 111-296 being implemented over the next two-to-three years and will impose additional costs on school districts. The reauthorization is a hollow promise to our children when it comes at the expense of the education that will help them to succeed.

Therefore, NSBA supports report language accompanying the FY 2012 Agriculture Appropriations bill that directs USDA to propose new rules that do not create unfunded mandates for school districts. Questions regarding our concerns may be directed to Lucy Gettman, director of federal programs at 703-838-6763; or by e-mail at lgettman@nsba.org.

Sincerely,

Michael A. Resnick,
Associate Director.

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COUNCIL OF THE

GREAT CITY SCHOOLS,

Washington, DC, June 14, 2011.
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES,
Washington, DC.

DEAR REPRESENTATIVE: The Council of the Great City Schools, the coalition of the nation's largest central city school districts, writes to call your attention to the proposed federal School Meals regulations that will cost an additional $6.8 billion, and the possible amendment to the FY 2012 Agriculture Appropriations bill, H.R. 2112, by Representative Woolsey that would prevent the Agriculture Department from reissuing more reasonable and cost effective proposed regulations pursuant to the Committee report. The Great City Schools strongly opposes the Woolsey amendment.

Many of the nation's largest urban school districts have been among the leaders in improving the nutritional content of school meals and snacks provided to our students. Yet, our school districts are extremely concerned that USDA is proposing new federal school meals requirements costing an additional $6.8 billion, with over $5 billion in unreimbursed costs shifting on to school district budgets. The newly proposed school breakfast program requirements alone would cost $4 billion, with the federal government providing not one-cent of additional federal reimbursement for these additional meal costs. The Council is skeptical that our formal regulatory comments recommending over $4.5 billion in cost-saving changes to the rule will be accepted by USDA.

Before the Education and Workforce Committee, the San Diego Unified School District explained that they were already meeting all of the proposed new school meal nutritional standards, with the exception of the future sodium requirement, but that the school district would have to scrap its Nutrient-based School Meals program (as would 30% of the nation's school districts) and institute the new meal system required under the proposed USDA regulations, at the additional cost of over $4 million annually to the district. School nutritionists and food service directors point out in regulatory comments that many of the newly proposed school meals requirements are unnecessary, excessive, costly, or counterproductive in the case of the regulatory prohibition on well-tested nutrient-based school meal systems.

Congress unfortunately shortcut the legislative process in passing the Senate's version of the Child Nutrition reauthorization bill in the lame duck session of the 111th Congress. The House child nutrition bill was not considered by the full House, and in fact there was no floor debate on the Senate child nutrition bill, which was adopted by unanimous consent prior to the August 2010 congressional recess. Without a full legislative process, the extent of the unreimbursed costs reflected in the USDA regulations, already under development for multiple years, was not fully examined. The drumbeat of celebrities and food advocacy groups promoting healthier lifestyles, and anti-obesity programs drowned out the practical considerations of cost-effectiveness and local budgetary realities faced by each of your school districts in this economic downturn.

A NO vote on the Woolsey amendment provides an opportunity to underscore the Appropriations Committee report that the Agriculture Department should withdraw its overreaching new federal school meals rules, and reissue a more realistic and workable proposed regulation.

Sincerely,

Michael Casserly,
Executive Director.

--

CONGRESS OF THE UNITED STATES,

Washington, DC, May 5, 2011.
Hon. TOM VILSACK,
Secretary, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Whitten Building, Independence Avenue, SW, Washington, DC.

DEAR SECRETARY VILSACK: Breakfasts and lunches served in the school setting are important components of the diets of school age children. Improving the nutritional profile of meals served in schools and maintaining participation rates are important priorities. We share your commitment to continually improving the contribution of the school meal to the nutritional needs of school children and to encourage healthy lifestyles for children that are built on a foundation of sound nutrition and physical activity.

USDA recently published a proposed rule on school meal plans to reflect the Dietary Guidelines. That proposal was based in great part on a study by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) commissioned by USDA. The recently released 2010 Dietary Guidelines identified potassium, fiber, vitamin D and calcium as nutrients of concern for all Americans, including school age children. Changes to the school meal plans should take steps toward increasing the consumption of these key nutrients by increasing student access to fruits and vegetables that are either "excellent'' or "good'' sources.

Changes to the school meal plans must consider the constraints faced by school lunch providers. School lunch providers need to offer nutritious affordable options that children will eat and that will encourage continued high rates of participation in both breakfast and lunch programs. For many children, the school meals are their prime source of nutrition for the day. Changes that discourage participation will reduce the overall health and wellness of American children.

As we continue to follow the development of the next generation of school meal plans, we would appreciate your thoughts on the following questions:

In the proposed rule, USDA indicates that implementation of the proposal will result in $6.8 billion in increased costs over five years and that small entities will incur 80 per cent of that increase. Do you have estimates on the impact of these cost increases on participation among reimbursed, partially reimbursed and paying participants?

Potatoes are rates as an "excellent'' source of potassium and a "good'' source of fiber. According to a recent article in the March 2011, USDA magazine, Amber Waves, potatoes deliver these nutrients at a very low cost. What is the rationale for eliminating potatoes from the breakfast meal and limiting them to one cup a week when they provide cost effective access to two key nutrients of concern identified by the IOM?

By limiting access to potatoes and other starchy vegetables, the proposed meal plans seem to advance the notion that this will increase the consumption of the orange, green and other types of vegetables otherwise offered. Is there science to support the theory that consumption of orange, green and other types of vegetables will increase is offered more often? What science exists that measures this type of vegetable menu change on nutrient delivery?

The starchy vegetable category includes vegetables with a variety of nutritional characteristics. What are the key characteristics that USDA identified which link the vegetables placed in this category, and how are they distinct from other vegetables excluded from the starchy vegetable category?

According the nutrition experts, bananas and potatoes are very similar in their nutritional makeup. This goes beyond both being rich in potassium. It includes similarities in carbohydrates, dietary fiber and other nutrients. Should both bananas and potatoes have serving limits in the proposed meal plans?

The meal plan acknowledges a preference for orange and dark green vegetables? Is there sufficient science to support such a preference for orange and dark green vegetables? Would Irish potatoes with yellow, purple or other flesh color be considered starchy vegetables?

According to the proposed rule, lima beans in the fresh, canned or frozen form are considered starchy vegetables. In dried form they are legumes. Are there nutritional changes between the forms that support such a distinction?

The proposed meal plans are based on consumption data available from 2002 that was reviewed by the IOM for their report. Did USDA evaluate the applicability of that consumption data on potatoes and other starchy vegetables, given changes in preparation methods for products currently offered in school?

Are the serving limits on starchy vegetables, and potatoes in particular, based primarily on the nutritional profile of the product or on the preparation methods for the product?

Thank you in advance for your feedback to our questions. We look forward to working with you toward our common goal of improving the well-being of our nation's school children.

Sincerely,
Jean Schmidt, Joe Baca, Rick Berg, Ken Calvert, K. Michael Conaway, Eric A. "Rick'' Crawford, Renee L. Ellmers, Wally Herger, Bill Huizenga, Raúl R. Labrador, Dan Burton, Dennis A. Cardoza, Jim Costa, Sean P. Duffy, Stephen Lee Fincher, Jaime Herrera Beutler, Steve King, Doug Lamborn, Tom Latham, Tom McClintock, Michael H. Michaud.
Devin Nunes, Collin C. Peterson, Chellie Pingree, Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan, Michael K. Simpson, Robert E. Latta, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Candice S. Miller, William L. Owens, Thomas E. Petri, Reid J. Ribble, Kurt Schrader, Adrian Smith, Marlin A. Stutzman, Scott R. Tipton, Greg Walden, Steve Womack, Lee Terry, Fred Upton, Timothy J. Walz, Todd C. Young.

Mr. Chairman, I yield back the balance of my time.

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