Earlier this week, the House Appropriations Committee passed its 2018 Agricultural Appropriations bill and, thanks to the efforts of Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), the bill addresses two issues of particular interest here on The Lunch Tray:
Language to Prevent Importation of Chicken from China
For those of you who haven’t been following the Chinese chicken issue, here’s a quick recap:
In the fall of 2013, I wrote a series of posts (starting with this one) explaining to readers that – despite U.S. Department of Agriculture assurances to the contrary – chicken slaughtered in America but processed in China could eventually appear on school lunch trays. Given China’s terrible food safety record, this was a matter of serious concern.
After my posts garnered attention (and a retraction) from the USDA, I was contacted by Rep. DeLauro, a long time food safety advocate, and asked if I’d like to work more on this issue along with dedicated advocacy groups like Food and Water Watch and the Center for Foodborne Illness Research & Prevention. Soon after, I and fellow food advocate Nancy Huehnergarth launched a Change.org petition seeking to keep Chinese-processed chicken out of school meals, garnering over 325,000 signatures and demonstrating widespread grassroots support. That same year, Rep. DeLauro was able to get an amendment (co-sponsored by Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME)) into the 2015 omnibus spending bill keeping chicken processed in China out of school meals, and she’s made sure this amendment has appeared in every spending bill since.
But now the USDA wants to go even further and allow China to export to the United States chicken that has been raised and slaughtered in China. Given the distressingly high levels of air, water and soil pollution in that country, this development raises additional serious food safety concerns. Accordingly, Rep. DeLauro pushed for language in the Agricultural Appropriations bill that would slow down – and hopefully prevent – this development. Per her press release issued yesterday:
China has repeatedly faced challenges with weak enforcement of food safety laws and regulations—including problems specifically related to poultry products. Now that the U.S. is moving forward with a rule allowing the importation of chicken raised and slaughtered in China, we must be even more vigilant. As a result, I fought for the inclusion of language that prevents the USDA from moving forward with this rule unless the Secretary of Agriculture can assure us that China’s food safety systems are equivalent.
USDA Guidelines to Prevent “Lunch Shaming”
Earlier this year, I had two stories in the New York Times – including a front-page feature – on “lunch-shaming,” i.e., practices which single out children in the cafeteria when they have outstanding meal debt. These stigmatizing practices can include offering children an alternate cold meal, denying them a meal, stamping their arm or hand, or making them wear a special wrist band.
As I reported in the Times, the USDA had been asked to consider issuing uniform national guidelines on how districts should handle meal debt, but the agency concluded the matter is best handled locally and declined to do so. The USDA did offer a list of “preferred alternatives” for districts to use when dealing with meal debt, but it did not specifically prohibit practices that stigmatize children.
Now Rep. DeLauro has secured language in the Agriculture Appropriations bill’s report which would require the USDA to issue minimum national standards on this issue, despite its earlier reluctance to do so. Here’s the language in the report:
The Committee is concerned with the practice of lunch shaming, which is when students with unpaid school lunch fees are treated unfairly, including having their lunch thrown away, being made to wear stickers or wristbands saying they owe lunch money, or even being made to complete chores for their meals. The Committee directs the Secretary to issue minimum national standards to address the ongoing issue of shaming school children for unpaid school lunch fees, including standards that protect children from public embarrassment; that require all communications about unpaid school lunch fees be directed at the parent or guardian, not the child; and that schools take additional steps to determine if families falling behind in their school lunch fees are in fact eligible for free or reduced-price school meals.
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I’ll of course keep you posted on both developments here.
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