retail news in context, analysis with attitude

The US House of Representatives voted yesterday 264-157 to approve a landmark child nutrition bill - formally called the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act - that the Christian Science Monitor says “some of the biggest changes to the Child Nutrition Act since the program was started nearly half a century ago.”

The US Senate unanimously passed the same bill last August, and President Obama is expected to sign it.

Among the changes that will be created by the bill, as described by the Monitor:

• “An additional $4.5 billion over 10 years to child nutrition programs – the first time the federal government has increased funding for them in 30 years.”

• “A 6-cent increase to the $2.68 reimbursement rate that schools get from the federal government for free school meals.”

• “Authorization for the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to set nutrition guidelines for all foods sold in a school building, including those in vending machines and à la carte lines.”

• “Expanded access to school lunch programs, and an expanded after-school meal program.”

• “Money for farm-to-school programs and school gardens.”

Proponents of the bill have said that it is deficit-neutral, but opponents said that it represented yet another example of the government creating a “nanny state.”

"It's not about making our children healthy and active," said Rep. John Kline (R-Minnesota). “We all want to see our children healthy and active. This is about spending and the role of government and the size of government – a debate about whether we're listening to our constituents or not.”

In statements issued yesterday, a number of food industry executives praised the passage:

“We applaud the U.S. House of Representatives for approving The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act as it contains important policy changes that lay the groundwork for the modernization of the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program, a long-standing initiative that helps provide healthy, nutritious foods to more than 9 million women and children every year,” said Leslie Sarasin, president/CEO of the Food Marketing Institute (FMI). “FMI has long supported the transition of the WIC program away from paper coupons to one supported by electronic benefits transfer (EBT) technology  as it will increase the efficiency of the program for both WIC-eligible mothers and grocers across the nation ... We urge President Obama to sign this important legislation as soon as possible.”

Pamela Bailey, president/CEO of the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), said, "We applaud the House for passing The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act – this crucial legislation will help feed many more children through school lunch and breakfast programs and increase the number of healthy choices in the cafeteria ... The food and beverage industry believes the school environment is a special environment and that the school cafeteria line can be on the front lines of feeding children while ending childhood obesity within a generation.”

And Tom Stenzel, president/CEO of the United Fresh Produce Association, added: “United Fresh and our members have helped lead the charge for healthier school meals for many years,” said United Fresh President and CEO Tom Stenzel. “It is so encouraging to see Congress recognize that giving kids healthier options is a great first step toward fostering a healthier country.”
KC's View:
I think we can expect to see almost every discussion and debate framed as being about the size and role of government.

I was interested the other day to read the following paragraphs in the New York Times, in a story called “Junking Junk Food”:

Earlier this month, Sarah Palin showed up in Bucks County, Pa., with “dozens and dozens” of cookies, suggesting that the state’s schoolchildren risked losing the right to the occasional classroom treat because of a high-minded anti-sugar edict from the board of education. Pretty much everything about the setup was wrong. Pennsylvania wasn’t, as Palin tweeted, in the midst of a ‘school cookie ban’ debate. And the school she turned into a photo op wouldn’t have been subject to such a ban had one existed; it wasn’t a public school but a private Christian academy. And while Palin might have been seizing an opportunity to ‘intro kids 2 beauty of laissez-faire,’ she wasn’t just visiting with schoolchildren but was delivering a paid speech at a fund-raiser.

Still, however shaky its factual foundations, Palin’s highly mediatized cookie showdown was a big rhetorical win. With her unerring feel for the message that travels straight to the American gut, she had come up with new and vivid imagery to make the case that the Obama “nanny state” is, essentially, snatching cookies — i.e., the pursuit of happiness — from the mouths of babes. Suddenly, Pennsylvania’s suggestion that schools encourage alternatives to high-sugar sweets became an assault on the American way of life. On freedom and simple pleasures. On wholesome childhood delights and, of course, the integrity of the family ... At a time when more than two-thirds of American adults are indeed fat (overweight or obese) and 17 percent of children and adolescents are obese, declaring war on unhealthful eating, as the Obama administration has done to an unprecedented extent, could be fraught with political liability ... with antigovernment sentiment resurgent, the cookies are pushing back, like the return of the repressed.

I’m sure there are places where the child nutrition legislation overreaches. There almost always are. And I’m sure there are places in the bill that have been crafted for political expediency - by members of both parties - rather than children’s best interests.

But as a taxpayer, I think that public schools need to be held to a higher standard in all areas - and that includes in the cafeteria. If we want our kids to be the smartest, best-educated children on the planet, which will in turn make them the most innovative and competitive, then that ought to include feeding them and educating them about the importance of proper nutrition. That doesn’t strike me as a cost. It sounds more like a good investment. And for either side to use kids - and their best interests - for political advantage in this area would be a shame.