A bill that would prevent new standards for school lunches from going into effect has sparked intense debate among legislators, nutrition advocates, and parents. A provision in HR 2112, “Appropriations for Agriculture, Rural Development and the Food and Drug Administration,” would essentially nullify new standards for school lunches proposed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Those new standards included: limitations on the quantity and type of potatoes served (specifically French fries), reduced target levels for sodium consumption, an increase in the amount of tomato paste required for the paste to be considered a serving of vegetables, and the introduction of more whole grains into the daily school lunch menu. Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee said that the changes would "prevent overly burdensome and costly regulations and ...provide greater flexibility for local school districts to improve the nutritional quality of meals."
However, Representative Dennis Kucinich, who voted “Nay” on the bill, disagreed with this rationale. He noted that the language in the bill would allow a serving of pizza, if it contains at least two tablespoons of tomato paste, to be classified as a serving of vegetables. Rep. Kucinich argued that “The needs of special interest groups are being put ahead of the health needs of children across the country. By including these provisions, we are allowing the salt, potato growers and frozen food industries to continue feeding the childhood obesity epidemic.”
Senator Susan Collins from Maine was the sponsor of an amendment, Senate Amendment 804, which initiated the discussion in Congress regarding the USDA’s new school lunch guidelines. Sen. Collins called the new USDA rules “the worst example of government overreach, Washington knows best, and an elitist approach”. She noted that “of all the issues the department [USDA] could be working on, to target potatoes and try to get people to eat fewer potatoes just didn’t make sense."
The original text of Sen. Collins’ amendment prohibits any funds appropriated to the Department of Agriculture from being used to implement any rule that sets maximum limits on the serving of vegetables in school lunch programs, including potatoes. The bill went to a conference committee, in which both chambers attempted to resolve their differences. In the final version of the bill, nutritional programs that require the classification of tomato paste as a vegetable to be based on volume, as well as those that establish standards for whole grains and sodium reduction, are also prohibited from receiving funds. The bill was then signed by President Barack Obama on November 18th. You can view how individual members of Congress voted on HR 2112, and read a complete summary of the bill on the Key Votes page of our website by clicking here.
Alex Hernandez is a student at the University of Texas at Austin majoring in Communications and is a current intern with Project Vote Smart. For more information on internship opportunities with Project Vote Smart, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 1-888-VOTE-SMART.
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