First lady keeping up pressure on nutrition

 

First lady Michelle Obama will look to rally support for her stricter school lunch standards with an event at the White House on Thursday, one day after a bill to roll back some of those regulations hits the House floor.

The first lady has invited school nutrition directors from Orlando, Fla., Dallas, and West Virginia to participate in the annual harvest of the White House vegetable garden.

"These school nutrition directors have seen success in their new school lunch programs thanks to the standards put in place by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act," a White House official said.

The nutrition directors will be joined with children from five local elementary schools who assisted the first lady in planting the harvest in April. The first lady planted the vegetable garden in 2009 to promote her healthy living initiative. 

Late last month, the House Appropriations Committee approved a bill that would waive tougher standards on sodium, whole grains, fruits and vegetables for schools that could show they had operated at a net loss over six months. Republicans say schools need greater flexibility to implement the standards. That bill hits the House floor on Wednesday.

But the White House has backed a compromise agreement adopted by the Senate Appropriations Committee. Under that deal, tougher requirements on sodium levels would not be implemented, although requirements on schools to offer fruits and vegetables would remain. The Senate plan also asks the Department of Agriculture to identify products schools could purchase instead of whole grain pastas and breads, and offer technical assistance to schools struggling to meet the new requirements.

The first lady has aggressively lobbied against the House Republican proposal, holding a series of events with stakeholder groups urging them to help demand lawmakers hold the line. The rare political foray for the first lady included a column in The New York Times in which she encouraged parents to “put our children’s interests first.”

“We wake up every morning and go to bed every night worrying about their well-being and their futures,” Obama said. “And when we make decisions about our kids’ health, we rely on doctors and experts who can give us accurate information based on sound science. Our leaders in Washington should do the same.”

But Republicans have insisted they're trying to strike the balance between affordability and the new nutrition standards.

“Federal regulations shouldn’t be driving school lunch programs underwater. This language throws them a lifeline,” Brian Rell, a spokesman for Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.), chairman of the House panel’s agriculture subcommittee, told The Hill.