USDA changes school lunch requirements

Under pressure from lawmakers, the Department of Agriculture (USDA) has changed its school lunch requirements to allow more meats and grains.

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Several farm-state senators from both parties had been pushing USDA to change its school lunch requirements, saying it left some students hungry and schools dealing with extra paperwork to comply with the regulations.

In a statement Saturday, Senator John Hoeven’s (R-N.D.) office said USDA informed him in a letter on Friday that it lifted its limitations on intake of grains, starches and protein.

“I’m grateful to [Agriculture] Secretary [Tom] Vilsack for recognizing that the rules need to allow for individual differences among children and the prerogatives of local school districts, and resources available to them,” Hoeven said in a statement.

Nevertheless, USDA’s modifications to the requirements are temporary and only apply to this current school year. Hoeven said he wants the changes to be made permanent.

“While we welcome this news from USDA, we believe the new flexibility should be permanent, rather than for just the 2012-2013 school year, and we will continue to press that case,” Hoeven said.

Hoeven said the response came from a letter that he and Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) sent to USDA last month. Other senators who signed on to the letter include James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), John Thune (R-S.D.), John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Jerry Moran (R-Kans.), Dan Coates (R-Ind.) and Tim Johnson (D-S.D.).

Others praised the move by USDA. In a statement Friday, Tester said this will give schools more flexibility.

“Schools need flexibility to make sure kids get the nutrition they need to focus on their studies. I appreciate USDA's willingness to listen to Montana parents, teachers, and administrators and look forward to working with USDA to adjust these new guidelines so they work for all of our kids,” Tester said.

This isn’t the first time Capitol Hill has bristled at the USDA school lunch requirements. Last year, Congress blocked several of the department’s requirements, including limiting potatoes and not classifying tomato paste on a pizza as a vegetable.