Food Safety Provisions Remain in Bill, Lawmakers Add Pilots to Increase Organic, Vegetarian Food in Schools
An historic $8 billion child nutrition bill is one step closer to passage. Yesterday, the House Education and Labor Committee approved the Improving Nutrition for America’s Children Act, bipartisan legislation that would, for the first time in over three decades, increase the reimbursement rate for school nutrition programs, set nutritional standards for all food sold in schools, and expand access to breakfast.
The legislation also aims to make it easier for kids to gain access to federal nutrition programs and ensure those programs serve more nutritious food, all served within new school food safety guidelines. The House proposal increases overall spending on federal nutrition programs by $8 billion over the next 10 years, a similar Senate bill increases spending by $4.5 billion.

abc-apple-featured.jpgFirst Lady Michelle Obama lauded the news yesterday, “This important legislation will combat hunger and provide millions of schoolchildren with access to healthier meals, a critical step in the battle against childhood obesity. I urge both the House and Senate to take their child nutrition bills to the floor and pass them without delay.”

“The President looks forward to signing a final bill this year, so that we can make significant progress in improving the nutrition and health of children across our nation,” added Mrs. Obama. The bill is a key part of the First Lady’s nationwide campaign to combat childhood obesity within a generation. 

“This legislation gives us a real opportunity to make dramatic reforms to help prevent hunger, to improve children’s health, and increase access to healthy meals,” said Rep. George Miller (D-CA), chair of the House Education and Labor Committee and original co-sponsor of the bill. “The health and academic success of an entire generation of children is at stake.”

Though the bill cleared committee 32-13 with support on both sides of the aisle–Reps.Todd Platts (R-PA), Vern Ehlers (R-MI) and Mike Castle (R-DE) broke party ranks–there was significant partisan debate on how to pay for the bill. Unsurprisingly, Republicans continually brought up the national deficit as a critical concern, while Democrats maintained they would find offsets to pay for the spending increases before the bill is brought to the floor, as they are required to do under PAYGO rules.

During markup several amendments were adopted, including a $1 million pilot program to introduce plant-based, vegetarian options in school meal programs and a trial program to increase organic foods served in school meals.

“If we are to be successful in curbing the childhood obesity epidemic, we need to offer students the healthiest options available, such as plant-based vegetarian options that are cholesterol-free, generally low in fat and saturated fat, lower in calories, and higher in fiber,” said Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO), sponsor of the vegetarian pilot program.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), who co-sponsored the organic program said, “This amendment is good for our children’s health, it’s good for schools, it’s good for farmers, and it’s good for our environment.”

On the food safety front, the legislation maintained language that responds directly to a September Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that found a lack of coordination in communicating food safety problems to schools. The bill calls for improved communication to speed notification of recalled school foods consistent with GAO recommendations and ensuring all foodservice employees have access to food safety training to prevent and identify foodborne illness such as through Web-based training.

Kucinich also succeeded in adding an amendment aimed at reducing pregnant women and children’s consumption of foods that have high levels of mercury. The amendment requires the Department of Agriculture (USDA), in consultation with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), to issue scientific guidance that will be provided to administrators of the child nutrition programs and the Women, Infants and Children program (WIC). The goal is to help schools and WIC programs avoid fish that is high in mercury in favor of healthier fish.

The bill remains a top priority for the White House, especially for the First Lady, but it is unclear whether Congress will succeed in getting the legislation to the president’s desk before the August recess begins. The one-year extension for the current child nutrition bill expires September 30.
For more information about the bill and amendments offered during the hearing, see the House Education and Labor Website.

  • Ashley H

    This bill is going to be limiting a child’s opportunities to receive protein, especially animal-based protein, which is more easliy absorbed by the human body thus providing more essential nutrients for growth and development than can be obtained from plants. These children will also be given mis-information that a plant-based and/or organic diet is healthier for them, instead of a well-balanced diet full of fresh food options, including fruits, vegetables and lean protein.

  • Susie Devine

    While I agree that children in schools should be eating well balance meals, I don’t think that we should overlook the nutritual value of meat. The beef industry along with other meat industries have worked hard to “trim the fat” from their products. Beef has 29 cuts that are considered as “lean” along with suppling zinc, iron and the all important protein that growing children need. I’m not so sure that just pushing a “plant based diet” is the best option here. I feel that quality lean meats should be made available to all students. Maybe we should just limit or do away with the highly processed meat that are aviable to students and serve the leaner cuts of meat. This way the children will still be receiving the important nutrituents of zinc, iron and protein that they need in a healthy diet.

  • Leo Ricardo

    Not a day too soon! This should have been done 2-3 decades ago! Why have we allowed salt, sugar, and fat to flood our schools and rob our children of their vitality, energy, and vigor? I applaud the principals, educators, and lawmakers who support the Improving Nutrition for America’s Children Act! This issues needs more support and a great deal more funding. Let us consider taxing salty and sugar junk snacks and drinks to help pay for additional expansions to this program to save our children!!!!

  • Penny Domenico

    I believe we should offer a well balanced selection of foods including very nutritional meats. We should concentrate on limiting sugars, fats and empty calories. Meat is very necessary and should be included.

  • Vicki

    I can’t believe that I’m still shocked when I see there are people out there who are still stuck on the protein deficiency myth and can’t be healthy with out dead animal in our diets. Please inform me to how organic is not a better option than chemical laced plant/meat food? I can’t say that vegetarians live longer but I can say that they live a better quality of life since they are almost never sick! I haven’t been sick in years, never need stupid vaccines or medicine and I sleep well knowing I don’t have to have people kill another life for me just so I can live. Not to mention how much better on the planet it is. Since my boyfriend has switched his diet to veg, his health has improved significantly. Kids are sick too often this will do wonders for them. Maybe it isn’t those following the veg diet that are misinformed.. Everything we need can come from a plant source.

  • Linda

    It’s about time! As a nutritionist and a mom of three young children, the encouragement of plant-based diets is of incredible importance to me! Finally, someone is paying attention to the actual research and evidence and not just industry telling us to consume tons of cow milk and meat along with all the other junk they push on our kids. Thank you Michelle Obama, Rep Polis and Rep Kucinich and all others who are pushing for this bill to pass!!!! Our kids may actually have a chance!

  • Vicki

    Zinc: grains, nuts and legumes.
    Iron: beans, spinach, enriched products, brewer’s yeast and dried fruits
    Protein (do not need a lot): Legumes, soy, beans, lentils
    B12: Some mushrooms and fortified cereal, milk (soy, rice, etc.), Inca berries, spirulina.
    Calcium: Studies show that vegetarians absorb and retain more calcium from foods than non-vegetarians do. Vegetable greens such as spinach, kale and broccoli, and some legumes and soybean products, are good sources of calcium from plants.
    Vitamin D, The sun, fortified milks, cereal.
    These are just small examples.

  • sandy

    factory farming and non-organic food practices are ruining the planet. i am not against eating meat, but i have taken up the unsustainable-fast with the many of the other moms in the nation so that we can make a significant break in the way our food is made and turn things around. it is not fair that we leave our children with a sick planet and expect them to know how to pick up the pieces of our irresponsible practices, we need to start now by admitting that we were wrong and helping them to begin fixing things and show them that organic practices and eating meat in a responsible manner is key to turning things around. what gives us the right to consume 3-5 portions of meat per day when much of the the world are lucky to get by on 1/2 cup of grain as their entire daily intake because of our gluttonous ways. i’m sorry but it makes me sick and sad to know that there is still people out there who believe that we need to eat meat at this time of crisis on the planet and when it’s very future lies in our hands at this moment.

  • Obesity is caused by too much over-processed food and lack of physical activity. Unfortunately, the term “Organic” is construed as meaning always good. That is simply not the case. Organic potato chips are still potato chips and eating too many organic potato chips will have the same long-term effects as eating regular chips. The problem is that over-processed foods generally taste better-that’s why kids like it. Salt, fat and sugar are craved by those who consume large amounts. Schools can serve steamed veggies and tofu, and it will go down the garbage disposal. As with all things, moderation is the key,and, as we are omnivoures, red meat is and should be a primary source of (inexpensive) protein. Teaching children to like the “Good Stuff” is also of primary importance. If these school kids are eating frozen pizza and ice cream (Or Ramen noodles) for supper at home every night, you’re going to have a hard time getting them to eat tabouli and soy beans at school. Pass the bread sticks, please.

  • Mom in San Jose CA

    It is absolutely amazing that people think all veg food is tasteless veggies and tofu. My 5 year old and I are vegetarians. I am vegan and he is lacto-vegetarian, he eats lots of healthy, tasteful foods. Meatless tacos and black bean burgers, full of proteins and other nutrients and minerals, yet very full of yummy flavors. Also, to the lady (?) who said organic chips are still chips…yes they are, however, the oils and potatoes are not made from chemicals…no one makes the claim that organic food has different nutritional values, only that they are made without the pesticides and growth hormones and antibiotics. Anti-biotic resistant bacteria is a real problem, partly due to the overuse of antibiotics in the meat you eat. In my son’s preschool there has been many absence’s in the cold and flu season, my son has been out less than 3 times in almost 3 years. Organic is better, no doubt about it. Plant based foods are easier for a human to digest, do you know how long red meat sits in your body, while your body struggles to sort out the things it needs from it. If you ask me, I don’t want a rotting corpse in my colon for 2-3 days, full of antibiotics and growth hormones and pesticides. Go ahead and stop Mickey D’s and get your big mac and diet coke, let’s see who is healthier. While your kids are filled up with all this crap, my son is jumping and playing while yours sits there in a food coma. Best wishes to you! I am so incredibly happy about this, it has been a long time coming! Go Mrs. Obama!!!!