Despite public ridicule — including a skewering on Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show” — Congress has gone ahead and approved legislation that junks new standards the Obama administration was trying to set to make lunches healthier for public school children.
The move was part of a massive spending bill that dealt with a host of programs (for transportation, housing, commerce, science, etc.) but it was the assault on new meal standards for public schools that caught flak.
The new standards were part of the administration’s efforts to deal with an obesity epidemic among young people — about 17 percent, or 12.5 million, of Americans ages 2 to 19 years are obese, government statistics show. First lady Michelle Obama has made childhood obesity a key issue.
In January, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced a revamping of nutrition guidelines for school meals for the first time since 1995 that would reduce sodium, starchy vegetables and trans fats while increasing fruits and non-starchy vegetables, whole grains and other healthy foods.
The guidelines called for limiting servings of potatoes, which were found to be unexpectedly fattening according to a recent federally funded Harvard University analysis of data collected over 20 years.
The guidelines also called for changing the composition of pizza — from two tablespoons of tomato sauce to at least half a cup of tomato paste, which would be considered a vegetable portion. In fact, tomato paste wasn’t a great choice to begin with; nutrition expert Tracy Fox points out that it is often made with sugar, sodium and preservatives.
The language gutting the standards was written into the legislation by a conference committee of senators and representatives reconciling the House and Senate versions of the huge spending bill. That language also dropped the limits on potatoes, essentially allowing French fries to stay on the school menu every day, and gutted efforts to reduce sodium.
Who was thrilled with the new language? The American Frozen Food Institute, a trade group. Its statement about the final version of the bill, which was approved by the House and Senate on Thursday, praised the lawmakers for taking a “balanced approach to implementing new school meal standards.”
That’s an interesting use of the word “balanced.”
Here’s who was on the committee that approved the trashing of the lunch standards (the number on the Senate and the House committees are different; it requires a majority vote of each to pass):
The Senate Conferees
Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, chairman Senate Appropriations
Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa
Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland
Sen. Herb Kohl of Wisconsin
Sen. Patty Murray of Washington
Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California
Sen. Tim Johnson of South Dakota
Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska
Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas
Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio
Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi
Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky
Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama
Sen. Kay Baily Hutchison of Texas
Sen. Susan Collins of Maine
Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri
Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas
Sen. John Hoeven of North Dakota
The House Conferees:
Rep. Hal Rogers of Kentucky, chairman of House Appropriations
Rep. C.W. Bill Young of Florida
Rep. Jerry Lewis, Chairman Emeritus
Rep. Frank R. Wolf of Virginia
Rep. Jack Kingston of Georgia
Rep. Tom Latham of Iowa
Rep. Robert B. Aderholt of Alabama
Rep. Jo Ann Emerson of Missouri
Rep. John Culberson of Texas
Rep. John R. Carter of Texas
Rep. Jo Bonner of Alabama
Rep. Steven C. LaTourette of Ohio
Rep. Norm Dicks of Washington
Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut
Rep. John Olver of Massachusetts
Rep. Ed Pastor of Arizona
Rep. David Price of North Carolina
Rep. Sam Farr of California
Rep. Chaka Fattah of Pennsylvania
Rep. Adam Schiff of California
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