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Politico reports this morning that the US House of Representatives Appropriations Committee voted 31-18 yesterday to "advance a fiscal 2015 agriculture spending bill with a controversial rider that would allow schools to opt out of nutrition rules requiring more fruits and vegetables, less sodium and more whole grain-rich products if they are losing money from the healthier meals."

According to the story, "the opposition to many of the new nutrition standards, which stem from the 2010 Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, has been fueled primarily by an extensive lobbying effort by the School Nutrition Association. The group, which represents 55,000 school nutrition professionals and the food companies that supply the National School Lunch Program, has been flying in school meal directors and cafeteria workers from across the country to ask lawmakers to give schools some regulatory relief by 'hitting the pause button' on the sweeping rules."

The vote sets up a potential political clash. Politico notes that the Democrat-controlled Senate Appropriations Committee has passed an agriculture spending bill without the school lunch provision; the House, of course, is controlled by Republicans. Meanwhile, neither the full House nor the full Senate have voted on the bills, though if they follow the lead of their committees, it will set up a potentially "contentious" conference committee trying to reconcile the two bills.

And, the debate is given even greater visibility because of the public support for the new standards - and against any relaxation of the mandates - by First Lady Michelle Obama, who has made childhood health and obesity centerpiece issues during the Obama administration's two terms.

BTW … United Fresh President & CEO Tom Stenzel released a statement yesterday saying that his organization was "deeply disappointed" by the vote, saying that United Fresh does not believe that it "is indicative of full House support for rolling back school meal standards …
We believe there is strong support both at USDA and among a majority of House members to find ways to help schools adjust to some of the more technical requirements of the rules regarding sodium and whole grains, but preserve the critical importance of serving at least one half-cup of fruits and vegetables in school meals."
KC's View:
While I recognize the economic issues involved for local school districts, I do think that serving school meals that are nutritious and healthy ought to be a high priority for all sorts of reasons. And since many of these school districts are getting federal money to support their meal programs, I don;t think it is unreasonable to demand that they not serve slop, but instead raise the bar on their meals. Public schools ought to nurture and educate the whole child … and that includes academics, physical education, and meals. If individual parents object, then let them pack their kids a lunch.

One further point. There are folks on the House committee who defend their vote by saying it is just a one-year delay on the mandate, and is merely temporary relief for beleaguered school systems. But I believe that about as far as I can throw a school cafeteria. Once the temporary delay is passed, the lobbyists will start spending money on a permanent delay … because that's how this stuff works.