So I didn’t sit through the seven hour (!) webcast of the markup of the House Education and the Workforce Committee‘s school food bill yesterday (my dedication to TLT readers only goes so far, people) but I’ve seen summaries of the outcome and it looks like the final bill is about as bad as expected, at least from the perspective of children’s health.
According to a statement emailed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to the media, including TLT, the House bill:
- Raises threshold on Community Eligibility from 40% to 60%. In total, 3,000 school districts and 18,000 schools—more than half of all eligible schools—are participating in CEP, benefitting more than 8.5 million students. Last school year, about 60 percent of the highest-poverty schools adopted community eligibility. Community eligibility not only reduces redundant paperwork at high-poverty schools but also makes possible huge gains in meeting vulnerable children’s nutritional needs by providing them with a healthy breakfast and lunch at school each day.
- Freezes sodium reductions.
- Requires USDA to do continuous scientific reviews on the benefits of whole grains
- Lets junk food back into schools to be sold a la carte.
- Undermines the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program by allowing schools to replace fresh produce with processed products, such as fruit snacks, chips, or trail mix.
- Block grants school nutrition programs in three states, a dangerous idea that will put further strain on state and local school districts’ budgets and jeopardize children’s access to quality, healthy school meals no matter where they live.
Matt Herrick, USDA Director of Communications, condemned the bill:
“This bill jeopardizes the health and welfare of millions of children. Rather than build on progress achieved in school nutrition over the past five years, it promotes junk food, hurts poor children and high-poverty school districts, and looks to bury parents and schools under a mountain of paperwork. The Senate’s bipartisan proposal is sensible and achievable and has our support.”
Similarly, James Weill, president of Food Research & Action Center, a leading anti-hunger group, referred to the bill in a press release as “ill conceived” and “deeply flawed,” while Margo Wootan, Nutrition Policy director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, stated that the bill “would roll back key progress that schools, health advocates, and the Administration have worked so hard to achieve over the last six years.”
As Herrick mentions in his statement, back in January the Senate managed to hammer out its own child nutrition bill in a compromise that seemed acceptable to all factions, including the School Nutrition Association, anti-hunger advocates and child health experts. (More details on the Senate bill in my Civil Eats piece here.)
It now remains to be seen how these almost diametrically opposed bills will get hashed out in Congress. I’ll keep you updated here.
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