In the midst of looming budget battles and unprecedented national debt, no measure is off-limits in Conservatives’ quest for cost-cutting. The GOP-controlled House Appropriations Committee has urged the USDA to show restraint in the implementation of new guidelines for the National School Lunch Program.
Those guidelines, proposed under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, are aimed at providing healthier sustenance to school kids across the country and would significantly alter the content of students diets by as much as doubling the amount of fruit, vegetables and whole grains schools are required to offer in both breakfast and lunch menus while vigorously reducing allowable sodium content.
But the House Appropriations Committee believes that nowas the country faces the toughest economic struggle it has seen since The Great Depressionmay not be the time. In language recently attached to a funding measure they have expressed concern that “an overly aggressive implementation schedule and unrealistic demands on changes in nutrient content can lead to burdensome costs”. Especially for the already thinly-stretched budgets of local and state governments; those who would end up footing most of the nearly $7 billion dollars in increased costs over five years under the new rules. Instead, the committee is calling for the new guidelines to be re-written in a way that would not increase the cost of producing school lunches above current levels.
Their concern however, is despite louder and louder calls to action by parents, educators and medical professionals to do something about the broken school lunch system. A system that, in recent years, has even been linked by studies to the childhood obesity epidemic; potentially causing children who regularly ate at school to be 29 percent more likely to suffer from obesity than their peers.
And, of course, the committee makes no mention of the virtual impossibility of feeding school children healthier meals without increasing costs. Decreasing sodium content alone is expected to significantly increase costs as schools convert from a “heat and serve” setup to one in which whole foods, rather than their processed counterparts, can actually be cooked and prepared.
Fortunately for school kids everywhere, the USDA is not expected to buckle to their demands. The measure, which earlier this year wrapped up an open session for public commentan exercise that reportedly garnered more than 130,000 submissionswill likely be revised in light of those comments and may see implementation as early as the fall of 2012.
Image Credit: USDAgov on Flickr, shared under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0) license.
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