New child nutrition rules must work for 'all districts,' Roberts says

By Philip Brasher

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WASHINGTON, March 4, 2015 - Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said he plans a bipartisan overhaul of federal nutrition requirements so that poor or rural school districts as well as wealthy, urban ones can meet the meal standards.

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Speaking to members of the School Nutrition Association, Roberts said he plans to begin hearings on a new authorization law this spring with committee action and floor action on a new bill after that. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids law under which the current standards were set expires Sept. 30.

“We need a program that works for all districts regardless of their location and access to resources,” Roberts said.

Roberts, who received a standing ovation from the gathering of food service directors, didn't provide specifics as to how the bill would address complaints that the standards set by USDA are too difficult to meet.

While he said he intended to produce a bipartisan bill in committee, any push to weaken many of the standards will run into stiff opposition from Democrats and the White House. The committee's ranking Democrat, Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., has strenuously defended the standards.

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The chairman of the Senate Agriculture subcommittee on nutrition, John Hoeven, D-N.D., on Monday proposed freezing sodium limits at their current levels, scrapping USDA's plans to tighten them again in 2017, and cut the whole grain requirement in half. Under the current standards, all breads and other grain products are supposed to be whole grain.

 

Roberts, speaking to reporters after his speech, didn't commit to including Hoeven's proposals, which would face opposition from the committee's top Democrat, Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.

 

"I've talked to him (Roberts) about doing a bipartisan bill, but I'm not going to slow down the health standards or improvements that we need for children in school," Stabenow told Agri-Pulse.

 

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