Panel defies first lady, moves bill waiving healthy lunch standards

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The House Appropriations Committee on Thursday approved the $20.9 billion Agriculture Department spending bill, including a measure that waives nutrition standards, backed by first lady Michelle Obama, for some schools.

The bill is headed to the full House after a 31 to 18 roll call vote.

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Democrats said they were voting against the measure in part because of a rider that would allow schools that have lost money to opt out of the tougher school lunch standards.

An amendment by Rep. Sam Farr (D-Calif.) to strip out the waiver language was defeated on a party line 22 to 29 vote.

The committee also stopped an amendment by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) aimed at keeping white potatoes out of the Women, Infants and Children supplemental food assistance program.

The underlying text of the bill would force the USDA to include white potatoes and the Senate’s companion bill would have a similar effect, subject to later override by scientists.

The committee debated a host of other perennial farm policy disputes.

It rejected an attempt to limit the U.S. sugar subsidy and quota system that critics say artificially inflates food prices and which supporters say is necessary to keep sugar farmers afloat.

The sugar amendment, sponsored by Reps. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) and Jim Moran (D-Va.) was defeated by a 32 to 19 vote.

Also defeated was an attempt to forbid inspections of horse slaughter facilities, aimed at stopping the practice, and two attempts to permit the USDA to finalize regulations meant to stop anticompetitive practices by packers and slaughterhouses.

The base bill continues to contain riders blocking some of the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration regulations.

Rep. Barbara Lee’s (D-Calif.) amendment aimed at creating a study to look at the effect of banning convicted drug felons from receiving food stamps was also rejected.

DeLauro, who has sparred in recent weeks with Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) and is in a rush to complete all 12 spending bills by the August recess, did get one amendment approved.

Her amendment would prevent chickens raised in China from being used in the school lunch program.

“Now, see how nice we can all be,” Rogers said.

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