Kansas lawmakers challenge USDA school lunch requirements

By Agri-Pulse staff

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, October 3, 2012- Congressman Tim Huelskamp, R-Kans., challenged USDA to embrace its own calorie and nutrition requirements implemented in the National School Lunch Program this week.

“If the USDA demands that 100,000 school districts change their menus and justifies this mandate because schools receive federal money for lunches, then taxpayers should demand that the USDA cafeteria meet the same standards, as USDA operates in taxpayer-funded buildings,” Huelskamp said in his “Nutrition Nanny” challenge to the agency. 

“Let's see if they eat enough to function,” according to his statement. “Let's see if they like having choices taken away from them.”

Huelskamp said his challenge is in response to USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services Dr. Janey Thornton's blog post suggesting parents replicate at home the meals in the National School Lunch Program. 

In that blog post, Thornton encouraged parents to talk to their children about the changes in school lunches.
 
"We know that many parents are already making changes at home to help the whole family eat healthier. We recommend reviewing school menus with kids at home and working to incorporate foods that are being served at school into family meals as much as possible," she wrote.

 

The agency has tried to explain that the changes are not a one-size-fits-all approach and allow for a range of calories within both a minium and maximum level, adjusted for the age of student.

 

“The new standards are based on recommendations from an independent panel of doctors, nutritionists, and other experts to ensure that meals paid for with hard-earned tax dollars are healthy and balanced," says a USDA spokesperson. "The calorie range actually exceeds what most schools were serving students previously and the standards place no limit on food that students can purchase in addition to or instead of the taxpayer-subsidized meals. Additionally, if a school encounters significant hardships employing the new calorie requirements, we stand ready to work with them quickly and effectively to remedy the situation with additional flexibilities.”
 

Senator Pat Roberts, R-Kans., also requested answers to questions about the program's implementation.

In a letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, Roberts outlined several issues his constituents have with the new requirements, including waste of the required fruits and vegetables as a result of children throwing them away, “insufficient” calories for active students and athletes, and the threat of schools dropping out of the program.

“I agree that improving the nutrition in school meals is a challenge deserving our attention,” according to the letter. “However, now that school districts have begun implementing the new standards, students, parents and administrators across the country are raising many concerns with the new rule.”

The full letter is available here.

Earlier this week, USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan defended the new school nutrition guidelines. “People are scared of change,” she said. “We feel strongly that the recommendations are backed by science and schools are strongly embracing them.”

 

Huelskamp and Congressman Steve King, R-Iowa, introduced the “No Hungry Kids Act” in order to undo the new school guidelines implemented as a result of the “Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act” passed in 2010.

“Doubling-down on this new school lunch policy that is obviously not working is not the answer,” Huelskamp said. “Let's undo the mandate and put parents and school districts back in charge of what their kids eat at school.”

 

To read an explanation of the changes from USDA's Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services Kevin Caoncannon, click http://www.agri-pulse.com/uploaded/HHKALetter.pdf

This post was updated at 6:30 pm.

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