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Why Would School Nutritionists Oppose Healthier Meals?

Opinion

(This blog post by Dr. Marion Nestle was published June 6, 2014, on Food Politics and is republished here with her permission.)

Understanding why school nutritionists want to scrap USDA’s nutrition standards takes some effort.

The question: Why is the School Nutrition Association (SNA) — the organization that represents the interests of “lunch ladies” — supporting Republican attempts to derail the nutrition standards?

SNA has a long and honorable history of fighting for better nutrition for children, and it supported the 2010 Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act — the one that gave USDA the authority to mandate healthier meals.

Jerry Hagstrom, who writes the daily Hagstrom Report, took a stab at explaining why SNA shifted position:

“When the school-lunch program started, most schools cooked their own food. As the number of children participating in the school-lunch program grew, the need to provide more food led the schools to buy prepackaged, processed food, which led to the companies making those foods becoming big players within SNA.”

Helena Bottemiller Evich of POLITICO adds to the explanation:

“The story behind the school lunch flip-flop is a complicated web of lobbying change-ups, industry influence and partisan posturing inside the Beltway… Interviews with more than a dozen former and current SNA officials reveal a dramatic shift in SNA’s policy platform, and even more so, its approach: choosing to wage war on Capitol Hill — pitting the association against [Michelle] Obama and her team — instead of trying to win more concessions directly from the Department of Agriculture… [This] has sparked a civil war within the nutrition community and the association itself. Nineteen former SNA presidents wrote to appropriators last week urging them to reject calls for a waiver — a break in ranks that was painful but necessary, signers said.”

She adds this critical piece of information:

“Several former presidents of the organization said they are worried that food companies have influenced the group’s agenda over concerns that the nutrition standards for the $11 billion program will take a big bite out of sales of popular items like pizza and salty snacks… About half of the group’s $10 million operating budget comes from food industry members.”

Kevin Concannon, USDA Undersecretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services, told Jerry Hagstrom that the SNA’s current leadership is making a “serious mistake” is supporting members of Congress who want to block USDA’s standards. If the SNA lobbies for permanent blockage of the standards, he thinks they will be “playing with fire.” SNA, he said, is isolated on the issue.  “The stakes are really high for the future of the country,” he said. “It is a battle worth waging.”

Is SNA isolated? Indeed it is. Here’s the list of organizations that support the new standards, compiled by the American Public Health Association.

© Food Safety News
  • yourturnnutrition

    Interesting article, but a list of those groups opposed to the new standards would be even more interesting.

  • BarryThoele

    Why should it surprise anyone the same people that claimed ketchup is a vegetable and a healthy part of the food group and that pizza covers all three food groups now want the conservative approach back. Conservatism is keeping thing the same. And when it comes right down to it they might actually have to work again at planning and preparing meals instead of just opening a box and dumping the ingredients into boiling water.

  • Jane Peters

    They to stop feeding our kids sugar, salt and fat.

  • susie

    I’m looking forward to the day when there is more focus on the so called “snacks” (fruit snacks/cookies that parents provide for the class) and party/events (cookies, cakes, goodies, sweets, etc.). I can pack my kids a lunch.

  • D in Maryland

    School lunch that meets healthy guidelines, but tastes or looks bad ends up in the trash.

  • http://burningbird.net Shelley Powers

    Excellent.

    Reminds me of the work Michele Simon is doing exposing corporate influence with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

    If we can’t trust the neutrality of the organizations who are supposedly fighting “the good fight”, we’re in serious, serious trouble.

  • Diane Ryan

    The general public needs to be educated on the true facts and feelings of those preparing millions of school lunches everyday. No one, and i mean NO ONE, is against healthier food options in schools. The hard working nutrition professionals operating the school lunch programs across the United States and abroad (yes we have schools in other countries) have fought to improve the quality of school meals. The USDA and Mrs. Obama have good ideas as well as good intentions. However, much of the food items available do not meet the new guidelines and/or do not hold up well under cafeteria-style meals. Convincing the students to change the way they eat in school is quite a daunting task. If the food does not even ‘look’ appealing, do you think they will want to eat it? Industry needs time to produce the products that meet USDA health Standards AND are appealing enough to want to eat. Still not convinced? I invite you to read an article printed in Food Management Magazine:
    http://food-management.com/blog/school-fsds-aren-t-against-healthy-eating

  • S

    I truly believe that all children should have access to healthier foods including in schools. I don’t believe Michelle Obama who isn’t qualified should be pushing her agenda for her own legacy. Neither should the food industry in pushing what they want onto this countries students and their unhealthy agenda and monetary greed. Parents, students, school districts/individual schools and those qualified should have a say. But in the end the final decision should be by parent, students and the schools(district wide and individual). Most students will eat healthy if it’s offered and prepared in various ways. Pizza can be healthy if a variety of vegetables &fruits, etc are offered as toppings,different healthy sauces and plenty of low fat cheeses. Dough can be thin crust, gluten free, wheat free, and many other options. Low salt snacks can be made by big businesses and/or that are healthier.