WASHINGTON, Jan. 17, 2016 - The Senate Agriculture Committee begins moving long-awaited legislation this week that would preserve the broad improvements in school nutrition standards implemented by the Obama administration.

Details of the bipartisan compromise, backed by Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts and the committee’s ranking Democrat, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, were not expected to be released before Monday, but school officials won some relief on the whole grains and sodium provisions, according to a summary of the legislation posted online by the School Nutrition Association.

The committee is due to vote on the bill on Wednesday. House Education and Workforce Chairman John Kline, R-Minn., has said he plans to move similar legislation but has not scheduled action. His committee has jurisdiction over child nutrition programs in the House.

The increased nutrition standards implemented under the expired Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 are a high priority of First Lady Michelle Obama. Enacting a reauthorization bill this year that keeps the key advancements largely intact while addressing schools’ concern would likely go a long way toward quelling the political controversy that has surrounded the rules.

“It is important to move a bill so that there is certainty about what the future looks like and how to get there,” said Jessica Donze Black, who directs the Kids’ Safe and Healthful Foods Project for The Pew Charitable Trusts.

“We’re hopeful that the House will currently follow the Senate’s lead in terms of having a really bipartisan process.”

Trump, Vilsack pitch Iowa farmers, biofuels industry

One of the most important events for agriculture this week will take place Tuesday near Des Moines, Iowa, where Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will cross paths with Donald Trump and three other Republican presidential candidates.

Vilsack, Trump, Carly Florina, Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee are all scheduled to speak at the annual Iowa Renewable Fuels Summit in Altoona. The organizers invited all the candidates from both parties that the industry advocacy group America’s Renewable Future has rated “good” on biofuel policy.

Monte Shaw, executive director of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, said he expects the candidates to address agricultural as well as biofuel issues and some may take questions.

Trump, who didn’t attend the candidates’ agriculture summit in Iowa last March, came under fire in last week’s Fox Business debate over his advocacy for imposing antidumping tariffs on China. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who is running just ahead or behind Trump in Iowa polls, and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said such tariffs could lead China to retaliate against U.S. farm exports.

Cruz, who has proposed phasing out the Renewable Fuel Standard, and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul weren’t invited to the summit because America’s Renewable Future rates them as bad.

EPA launches new initiative to cut food waste

Also this week, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy announces the latest of the administration’s interagency’s efforts aimed at reducing U.S. food waste by 50 percent by 2030. The latest plan, called the Food Steward’s initiative, is supposed to help faith and community groups reduce food waste in churches, homes and communities.

She’ll announce the event at a church soup kitchen in Washington, D.C., where she’ll help a local chef prepare a roasted pumpkin salad from “gleaned” ingredients that have been saved from the landfill.

The House isn’t in session this week.

SNA: ‘worked alongside USDA’ on nutrition bill

The school nutrition directors didn’t get all that they wanted in the Senate bill, according to the details the group released, but their support will be critical to getting the legislation enacted.

SNA has clashed sharply with the Obama administration over the standards. But SNA President Jean Ronnei said in the association’s summary of the bill that her group worked “alongside USDA in crafting practical solutions,” referring to the challenges schools said they had with the bill.

The bill would delay for two years the next round in reductions of sodium limits for school meals, which would leave in place the current standards until the 2019-2020 school year, SNA says. The current limits took effect in 2014.

Did you know Agri-Pulse subscribers get our Daily Harvest email Monday through Friday mornings, a 16-page newsletter on Wednesdays, and access to premium content on our ag and rural policy website? Sign up for your four-week free trial Agri-Pulse subscription.

The bill would allow 80 percent of grain products served in schools to be whole grain rich, down from the current standard of 100 percent. Since 2014, all grains are supposed to be whole grain rich, although some schools have received hardship waivers from states under temporary provisions Congress has enacted.

SNA had asked Congress to block further reduction in sodium limits, lower the whole grains requirement to 50 percent and allow schools to decide whether students are required to take a fruit or vegetable.

Here’s a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere:

Monday, Jan. 18

Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack speaks at a food packaging event at Central College in Pella, Iowa, in observance of the MLK Day of Service. Deputy Agriculture Secretary Krysta Harden hosts service events at the Thomas County Food Bank and Outreach Center in Thomasville, Ga.

7:15 a.m. - EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy announces a food waste initiative, Miriam’s Kitchen, 2401 Virginia Ave. NW 

Tuesday, Jan. 19

Vilsack will speak at the Iowa Renewable Fuel Summit in Altoona, along with several GOP presidential candidates.

Harden and Rep. Gwen Graham, D-Fla., moderate the Next Generation of Agriculture Panel for Women, Veterans and Minorities in Agriculture in Tallahassee, Fla.

All day - National Conference and Global Forum on Science, Policy and the Environment: “The Food-Energy-Water Nexus,” through Thursday, Hyatt Regency Crystal City.

10 a.m. - Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee holds hearing on the near-term outlook for energy and commodity markets, 366 Dirksen.

Noon - Heritage Foundation forum, “Federal Mismanagement of Western Lands: Bringing Solutions to Washington,”

Wednesday, Jan. 20

National Conference and Global Forum on Science, Policy and the Environment.

9 a.m. - Farm Foundation forum on antibiotic use in humans and animals, National Press Club.

9 a.m. - U.S. Trade Representative Mike Froman addresses the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Capital Hilton Hotel.

10 a.m. - Senate Agriculture Committee markup of child nutrition reauthorization bill, 328 Russell.

1 p.m. - National Summit on “Antimicrobial Stewardship: Policy, Education and Economics,” Hyatt Regency Capitol Hill.

Vilsack and Navy Secretary Mabus make a biofuels announcement in San Diego to launch the Department of the Navy's Great Green Fleet.

Thursday, Jan. 21

National Summit on Antimicrobial Stewardship.

National Conference and Global Forum on Science, Policy and the Environment.

9:30 a.m. - Senate Energy and Natural Resources hearing on innovative automotive technologies, 366 Dirksen.

Noon - The United State Energy Associations annual State of the Energy Industry Forum, National Press Club.

Friday, Jan. 22

Vilsack and EPAs McCarthy hold a media call on Local Food, Local Places, an interagency initiative to promote the development of local food systems.


For more news, go to: www.Agri-Pulse.com