Dear Secretary Vilsack:
We are writing in regard to the United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA) proposed rule for Nutrition Standards in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs, which was published on January 13, 2011.
Sound nutrition and physical activity are important tenets of building a foundation for a healthy lifestyle and we value your ongoing commitment to ensuring that national school nutrition programs are adequately delivering vital nutrients to school-age children. We understand that many children depend on school meal programs for their nutritional needs, which is why we believe that it is important that school meals provide access to healthy and fresh food options, while allowing sufficient flexibility to school meal providers to help build a foundation for healthy eating.
As you know, the USDA's proposed rule on school meal plans was written to reflect the 2005 Dietary Guidelines (DGA) developed jointly by the U.S. Department of Health of Human Services (HHS) and the USDA. The proposed rule also took into consideration a 2009 Institute of Medicine study commissioned by the USDA, which identified potassium, fiber, vitamin D and calcium as nutrients of concern for all Americans, including school-age children. Since the release of USDA's proposed rule, the USDA and HHS have issued updated Dietary Guidelines that differ in many respects from the 2005 DGA and may compel modifications to the proposed rule. We believe that any improvements to standards for school meal plans should -consistent with the most current DGA-increase the consumption of key nutrients by improving student access to all fruits and vegetables that are either "excellent" or "good" sources of key nutrients. We would like to know whether the USDA integrated the updated USDA-HHS Dietary Guidelines in the proposed rule and, if so, how the updated DGA affected changes to the proposed rule for school lunch and breakfast programming.
We support the intent of the 2008 Farm Bill to include all fruits and vegetables in federal nutrition programs where supported by sound science. As such, we seek clarification on the potential restriction of starchy vegetables in USDA's proposed rule for Nutrition Standards in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs. Specifically, we would like to understand better the reasoning for plans to limit starchy vegetables in the school lunch program and to completely restrict starchy vegetables in the school breakfast program.
Finally, we have been made aware of related concerns that the potential limitation of starchy vegetables may restrict the flexibility of school meal providers to make possible consistent access to critical nutrients for children. Providing sufficient flexibility for school meal providers to make suitable and reasonable substitutions between affordable fresh and nutritious food options is a sensible way to ensure high rates of participation for both breakfast and lunch programs. We wholeheartedly understand that balanced consumption of healthy foods is critical to good nutrition; however, we also understand that at times, schools may need the flexibility to ensure they are consistently providing healthy food options that deliver essential nutrients.
Please know that we share your commitment to providing healthy, nutritious and affordable meal options for students with the goal of encouraging healthy and wise nutrition choices. Should you have any questions about our request, please do not hesitate to contact us or our staff. We look forward to reviewing your response.
Mark Udall, Susan Collins, Mike Crapo, James Risch, Ron Wyden