Ohio representatives challenge USDA school lunch regulations

By Agri-Pulse staff

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WASHINGTON, March 21, 2013 - A bipartisan pair of Ohio representatives yesterday disseminated a “Dear Colleague” letter to drum up support for new state-coordinated National Lunch Program guidelines. The legislation would create changes at USDA - the department has struggled with its own national guidelines since they were implemented in the beginning of this school year.

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In December, USDA agreed to allow schools to serve unlimited meats and protein to their students for two years. The change would "allow more time for the development of products that fit within the new standards while granting schools additional weekly menu planning options to help ensure that children receive a wholesome, nutritious meal every day of the week," Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said at the time. 

Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, and Steve Stivers, R-Ohio, say their new bill would allow local schools greater flexibility in providing nutritious foods to their students. It would also allow local schools that are meeting their nutrition goals to set their own school lunch prices. Under 2011's Health Hunger Free Kids Act (HHFKA), the federal government sets the price of meals.

“We believe this bill strikes the perfect balance between allowing school meal providers more options and preserving the overall goal of better nutrition,” the congressmen wrote. “We ask that you join us in the introduction of the Sensible School Meals Act, which will contain these two no-cost provisions.”

The School Nutrition Association endorsed Stivers-Fudge bill in a statement from their president, Sandra Ford. The School Nutrition Flexibility Act will ensure students continue to receive well-balanced and right-sized school meals, but the legislation gives school cafeterias the flexibility they need to plan healthy menus that appeal to students,” she said. "School nutrition professionals appreciate the leadership of Representatives Stivers and Fudge.”


The full text of the letter is below:


Dear Colleague:

We are writing to you today on the importance of providing our children with nutritious school meals. During these times of limited budget resources and fiscal debates, it is important to also focus on school nutrition and allow those who serve our children the flexibility they need to continue their dedicated work. Our children are our future. We cannot compete in a world economy without an educated workforce, and we cannot educate our children if they are hungry.

Earlier this month, we met with our local school nutrition experts. During our conversations, we learned that each day the members of the School Nutrition

Association (SNA) serve over 31 million children in 100,000 schools.  The work they are doing on a daily basis to provide for and help maintain our children's health and well-being truly shows their devotion to our children and their unique understanding of problems facing our children.

In order for these professionals to continue to fuel the eager young minds of tomorrow, we ask you today to support the Sensible School Meals Act.  This important legislation will grant the local school administrators more flexibility in two areas:

First, the bill will provide greater flexibility in determining school nutritional standards. Using its rulemaking authority, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) placed limits on protein and grains which could have caused numerous problems for our children and those entrusted with creating their school meal menus. As a result, USDA has waived the protein and grain limits for two years. We feel this two-year extension should be made permanent. 

As long as the calorie limit set by the USDA remains in place, it is best to defer to local operators on how to update the new meal pattern.  We all know there is an obesity problem throughout our nation, but in order to combat this epidemic, we must provide our local nutritionists the flexibility they need to achieve our national objective of improved nutrition.

Second, the bill allows the local school food authority and local school board to set the price of a “paid” meal where the program is being well managed.

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act passed in the 111th Congress would have the federal government set the price of a school lunch for the first time since 1946. The SNA reports that not all communities can afford the increase. As a result, participation has declined in some schools. An unnecessary price increase has the potential to turn a program for all children into a program that serves only low-income children. We believe that local programs that are well-managed and operating in the black should be able to determine the cost of a school meal.

We believe this bill strikes the perfect balance between allowing school meal providers more options and preserving the overall goal of better nutrition. We ask that you join us in the introduction of the Sensible School Meals Act, which will contain these two no-cost provisions.

Thank you for your support of children and good school nutrition. If you would like to sign on as an original cosponsor, please contact Monica Hueckel with Rep. Stivers at: Monica.Hueckel@mail.house.gov, or Kellie Adesina with Rep. Fudge at: Kellie.Adesina@mail.house.gov.



Steve Stivers                                 Marcia Fudge

Member of Congress                     Member of Congress


This post was updated at 4:45 pm. 


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