Ag spending bill retreats on school meal standards


"This agreement improves childhood nutrition by providing school nutritionists with the ability to serve healthy foods kids enjoy while avoiding burdening schools with massive new costs," institute President and CEO Kraig Naasz said in a statement. "Of particular interest to frozen food producers, this agreement ensures that nutrient-rich vegetables such as potatoes, corn and peas will remain part of a balanced, healthy diet in federally-funded school meals."

Public health advocates slammed the bill.

"It's a shame that Congress seems more interested in protecting industry than protecting children's health," said Margo Wootan, director of Nutrition Policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. "At a time when child nutrition and childhood obesity are national health concerns, Congress should be supporting USDA and school efforts to serve healthier school meals, not undermining them. Together the school lunch riders in the agriculture spending bill will protect industry's ability to keep pizza and French fries on school lunch trays."

Advocates even roped in the U.S. military to bolster their case.

More than 100 retired military officers with the nonpartisan national security organization Mission Readiness signed onto a letter to congressional leaders urging them to reject any appropriations bills that weaken the Department of Agriculture's nutritional standards. Citing Defense Department estimates that one in four young adults is too overweight to join the military, the group on its Web site called efforts to categorize pizzas as vegetables a "national disgrace."

"As Congress enters into conference negotiations on legislation containing final FY 2012 Agriculture appropriations, we urge you reject any language that is inconsistent with the Senate approved spending bill and that would weaken the proposed guidelines for school meals or derail the implementation process," the letter reads. "Obesity is the leading medical reason why applicants fail to qualify for military service."

The bill is packaged with spending provisions for the Food and Drug Administration as well as for Commerce, Justice, Transportation, Housing and science. A vote on the so-called "minibus" is scheduled for Thursday in the House.