School lunch provision missing from Senate bill

 

A Senate spending panel on Tuesday approved a 2015 Agriculture bill without controversial school lunch provisions found in a House companion bill.

The House appropriations language would waive tougher nutrition standards for schools that can show their school lunch programs operate at a net loss over six month.

Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) said his draft version, approved by the Senate Agriculture appropriations subcommittee on a voice-vote, does not contain the waiver provision.

“Certainly if people are going to offer amendments I’ll look at those,” he said. 

He said he wants to study a ruling from the Agriculture Department earlier in the day relaxing requirements that schools offer whole-grain bread and pasta before deciding how to vote on amendments in full committee on Thursday.

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Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) told reporters he is not planning to offer a waiver amendment but will offer two other provisions aimed at helping school lunch programs cope with the nutrition standards. 

One would freeze increasingly stringent requirements on sodium levels in lunches. The other would freeze the whole-grain requirement at 51 percent, rather than allowing the requirement to increase to 100 percent of grains.

He said he supports the waiver, but his language does not include it.

“At this point, I don’t know that I can pass it through the committee,” he said. “I want to be careful here because I’ve got some things I think I can get passed.

Overall, the Senate Agriculture bill spends $20.5 billion in 2015, less than the $20.9 billion spent on agriculture and nutrition programs in 2014 and less than the House bill.

Pryor said the bill, the text of which is under wraps until Thursday, does not contain language forcing the USDA to pay for white potato purchases under the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) food assistance program. That provision in the House bill and an amendment is expected at the full committee level. 

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) at the Tuesday markup blasted the USDA for excluding potatoes from WIC. 

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