Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives are fighting an effort by the Obama administration to make federally-subsidized school lunches more healthy.
A January proposal by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) aimed to limit — but not eliminate — fries and pizza on the lunch menu.
“[S]tarchy vegetables (e.g., white potatoes, corn, lima beans, and green peas) would be limited to 1 cup per week to encourage students to try new vegetables in place of the familiar starchy ones,” the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service recommended.
Additionally, the rule would change the way tomato paste is credited, making it more difficult for pizza to be considered a serving of vegetables.
Under pressure from lobbyists and some food companies that sell frozen pizza, salt and potatoes, Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee rejected the new rules, painting them as “burdensome and costly regulations.”
In the process, they ignored the advice of retired military leaders who said that status quo school lunches could hurt military readiness.
“We urge you to reject any language … that would weaken the proposed guidelines for school meals or derail the implementation process,” former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Hugh Shelton (Ret.) and more than 100 other retired generals and admirals wrote to Congress.
Mission: Readiness director Amy Dawson, who advocates for healthier school lunches, called the decision a “national disgrace.”
“We are outraged that Congress is seriously considering language that would effectively categorize pizza as a vegetable in the school lunch program,” she said.
Margo G. Wootan, director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), explained that Congress seemed more concerned about the protecting corporate profits than children’s health.
“At a time when child nutrition and childhood obesity are national health concerns, Congress should be supporting USDA and school efforts to serve healthier school meals, not undermining them,” she observed. “If finalized, this legislation may go down in nutritional history as a bigger blunder than when the Reagan Administration tried (but failed) to credit ketchup as a vegetable in the school lunch program. Pizza should be served with a vegetable, not count as one.”
But it’s not only Republicans that are opposed the Obama administration’s efforts. House Assistant Democratic Leader James Clyburn (D-SC) has also pledged to vote against the new rules.
“Healthy school lunches are essential for the well being of our children, especially those who depend on school meals for most of their day’s nutrition,” Clyburn said in a statement. “However, I believe that school districts are capable of making responsible choices and providing healthy options for their students.”
Watch this video from WSPA, broadcast Nov. 15, 2011.
Photo: Flickr/Judy Baxter
(H/T: Washington Monthly)