I feel like I’ve been failing you, TLT’ers! I aim to keep you informed of the latest school food news, but due to travel and other real life intrusions I’ve fallen a bit behind. And that’s unfortunate because there’s a lot going on these days with the Child Nutrition Reauthorization (CNR).
Just to remind everyone, the CNR is the every-five-year refunding of child nutrition programs, including the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). That gives Congress a prime opportunity to modify existing school food regulations and, as you know, the more stringent school meal standards of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA) are now at risk.
Here’s a round-up of the latest:
The Most Recent CNR Hearings
- “Child Nutrition Assistance: Are Federal Rules and Regulations Serving the Best Interests of Schools and Families?” (June 16).
You can watch the archived webcasts and/or read testimony from hearings using the above links, but for the non-wonks among us, Education Week has a good recap of the June 16th hearing, as does The Hill, and Agri-Pulse‘s has a good summary of the June 24th hearing.
Vilsack Stands Firm on School Meal Standards
At the June 16th hearing, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack testified before the full committee and answered members’ questions, offering a staunch defense of the HHFKA. He responded well to criticisms of the law’s meal standards, including allegedly increased plate waste (debunked by the Harvard School of Public Health) and tales of districts leaving the NSLP in droves (actually, only 59 out of 99,000 have left, according to Vilsack, and Dana Woldow has reported they often suffer financially as a result).
But my favorite Vilsack line came in response to committee chairman John Kline’s (R-MN) characterization of school meals as too skimpy to feed hungry athletes, a common refrain from opponents of reform (which Woldow also recently debunked.) After pointing out that the new meals are a mere 25 calories lighter, on average, than the old ones, Vilsack added, “This is not, in fairness, all-you-can-eat at Applebee’s. This is a school lunch program.”
But Meanwhile, Over in the House Appropriations Committee . . .
. . . the fiscal 2016 agriculture discretionary spending bill was released, and it includes a provision to “defund” any further school food sodium reductions (see Section 733) and contains the whole grain waiver language (see Section 732) we’ve discussed quite a bit on this blog. If ultimately adopted, these provisions would be a blow to those who favor robust school nutrition standards.
On the upside, the spending bill also contained language which, if adopted, would continue to keep Chinese-processed chicken out of school meals. (That’s the cause I and fellow food activist Nancy Huehnergarth spearheaded via a successful Change.org petition last year.) Many thanks to Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), a tireless food safety champion, for continuing to fight that battle to protect our kids.
What’s the Timing on the CNR?
No one can say for sure, but school meals aren’t in jeopardy even if the September 30th deadline for the CNR passes. Politico‘s Morning Agriculture report helpfully explains:
House Republicans continued to apply their scrutiny on child nutrition programs in a hearing Wednesday but gave no hint of a potential timeline for getting a bill out to change the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act as the law is set to expire Sept. 30. . . .
School lunch and breakfast programs are permanently authorized to continue after the Sept. 30 date. Other programs, like the Summer Food Service Program, Child and Adult Care Food Program and the Women, Infants, and Children Program, are set to expire, though an extension is likely.
So, What Can I Do to Keep School Meals Healthy?
Chef Ann Cooper is asking people to go to Causes.com and pledge to tell their Congressional representatives that they care about kids’ health and want to keep the school meal standards of the HHKFA intact. Or, take a moment to sign and share one of the many petitions now circulating to achieve that goal, such as this one from Food Policy Action and this one from the American Heart Association.
And if you need some more inspiration to take action, check out Chef Ann’s latest post on US News & World Report, “The Five-Year Plan for National Childhood Nutrition: Don’t Undo the Progress.”
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And with that, TLT’ers, I’m going to be offline again for two to three weeks, absent any big breaking news. I hope you’re having an enjoyable summer and I’ll see you back here in mid-late July!
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