Lawmakers and industry agree on need for new school food rules

By Agri-Pulse Staff

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

Washington, March 18 – The U.S. Department of Agriculture would be responsible for drafting national school nutrition standards governing what could and could not be sold in school lunch rooms if a new bill being written in the U.S. Senate next week becomes law. If enacted, advocates say the rules would replace very narrow guidelines that have not been updated for almost 30 years, reducing the number of less nutritious options available to school kids and providing an historic effort to address childhood obesity. 

Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) along with Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) joined with major trade and public interest organizations Thursday to announce their support for the new measures.

“This historic opportunity to create national school nutrition standards is a monumental step forward in improving the health and well-being of our children. I’m very excited about this agreement, particularly since Arkansas has been at the forefront of efforts to create the kind of environment that nurtures the type of healthy habits we want our children to have for a lifetime. Today’s agreement will help replicate Arkansas’s efforts across the country.  This agreement could not come at a better time as we march toward the committee’s consideration of the child nutrition reauthorization next week,” Lincoln said.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) and supporters present new school nutrition plan. Photo: Agri-Pulse.

The national school nutrition standards won’t necessarily prevent so-called “junk foods” from being sold in schools, but whatever is allowed will have to meet new guidelines for nutrition and portion size. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act requires the Secretary of Agriculture, through a transparent regulatory process, to establish national nutrition standards consistent with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. At the same time, food and beverage manufacturers will be able to produce healthier products that meet one national standard, rather than a patchwork of state and federal guidelines.

Lincoln, Harkin, and Woolsey were joined by representatives from the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Beverage Association, American Cancer Society Action Network, American Diabetes Association, American Dietetic Association, American Heart Association, The Coca Cola Company, Center for Science in the Public Interest, Mars Incorporated, National PTA, Nestle, and PepsiCo. These organizations worked with other food and beverage industry, public health, and education leaders to reach an agreement on national nutrition standards.

“This is truly a landmark agreement,” said Harkin. “That means ensuring that kids have the ability to choose from foods that meet science-based nutrition standards. This agreement provides a common-sense approach to healthy eating and it starts in a place where our kids spend the majority of their day – their schools. With childhood obesity and diabetes on the rise, it couldn’t have come at a better time.”

“We are robbing our kids of a real chance for a healthy future with easy access to calorie-laden snacks and sugary beverages during the school day and fewer opportunities for physical activity – a recipe for disastrous and deadly consequences,” says American Heart Association Immediate-Past President Timothy Gardner, M.D. “We have made great progress in recent years with several states improving nutritional standards along with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s work with the beverage and snack food industries to reduce calories from sugar sweetened beverages and enhance the nutritional value of school vending machine options. Passage of the Child Nutrition Promotion and School Lunch Protection Act will take the next step to ensure that schoolchildren have access to healthier options and help us win the battle against junk foods in schools.”

“This bill is greatly needed. The current national nutrition standards for foods sold out of school vending machines and a la carte lines in cafeterias are thirty years out of date and do not address key nutrition problems like calories, fats, salt, and sugar. Today, Congress is taking an important step toward allowing USDA to update those standards to protect the federal investment in school meals, support parents’ efforts to feed their children healthfully, and protect children’s health,” Margo G. Wootan, Director, Nutrition Policy, Center for Science in the Public Interest said.

“Mars believes that schools are a unique environment, and we strongly support a new national school nutrition standard that will ensure children have access to high quality nutritious snacks at school,” Hank Izzo, Ph.D. Vice President, Research and Development, Mars, said.

“Each school day, parents entrust schools to care for their children all across our nation. Ensuring that salty, fatty junk foods and sugary drinks are no longer an option in our schools truly honors that trust and opens students up to healthier options. We thank Sensators Lincoln, Harkin, and Murkowski for their critical roles in getting us to this point, and we look forward to continuing our work to enact this and other policies in order to make every child’s potential a reality,” National PTA President Charles J. “Chuck” Saylors said.

The agreement is included in Lincoln’s Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act which the Senate Agriculture Committee plans to start marking up next Wednesday. 

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