Schools win delay on whole grains rule

The Agriculture Department on Tuesday announced that it would allow schools to obtain a two-year reprieve from new rules that require them to serve more whole grains in school lunch programs.

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Starting next year, schools must serve breads and pastas made from at least 50 percent whole grains. Many schools told the USDA they were having trouble finding whole-grain pasta that could be cooked in massive quantities without falling apart.

In response, the USDA will allow schools to apply for a two-year exemption from the requirement.

"Schools raised legitimate concerns that acceptable whole-grain-rich pasta products were not available. We worked to find a solution which will allow more time for industry to develop products that will work for schools," said Agriculture Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services Kevin Concannon.

The announcement comes on a day when the House Appropriations Committee moved forward with legislative language that would allow schools whose lunch programs lose money to get a one-year exemption from all the new nutrition requirements implemented as a result of the Obama administration-backed 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.

The USDA opposes that legislative language, included in the bill that provides funding for the agency’s budget in 2015, which passed out of subcommittee on Tuesday.

“Over 90 percent of schools report they are successfully meeting the updated nutrition standards, and a USDA analysis suggests that nationwide schools saw a net revenue increase in the first year of implementing the updated standards and preparing more nutritious meals,” it noted in its announcement on the whole grains rule.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) praised the USDA for making the move.

“Although the vast majority of schools are making great strides in serving healthy meals that kids enjoy, schools in Michigan and throughout the country are still struggling to serve some whole-grain items like pasta. I have raised these concerns with the secretary and I am pleased to see USDA is committed to making these standards work,” she said.

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