Hoeven: Ag Committee Votes Unanimously to Advance Child Nutrition Legislation
Measure Incorporates Senator's Healthy School Meals Flexibility Act
WASHINGTON – Senator John Hoeven, who serves on the Senate Agriculture Committee, today announced that the committee has unanimously approved the “Improving Child Nutrition Integrity and Access Act of 2016.” The measure includes an agreement the senator worked for that will help to ease regulatory mandates on whole grains and sodium to alleviate unintended challenges facing school meal programs.
“We worked with the School Nutrition Association and National School Boards Association on an agreement providing needed flexibility for sodium levels and whole grain requirements,” Hoeven said. “The Senate Agriculture Committee, USDA and the White House have now agreed to incorporate needed flexibility for our schools to be able to serve nutritious meals within their budgets that students will eat.
Last year, Hoeven and Senator Angus King (I-Maine) introduced the bipartisan Healthy School Meals Flexibility Act in the Senate. The measure sought to provide permanent flexibility for schools to comply with the USDA’s sodium and whole grain requirements under the National School Lunch and Breakfast programs. Today’s agreement incorporates the Hoeven-King legislation, notably with regard to whole grains and sodium.
- WHOLE GRAINS: The legislation includes authorization for expedited rulemaking so that the USDA can allow 80 percent of the grains offered with school meals to be whole grain rich, allowing schools to offer occasional servings of enriched grain products like white rice or corn tortillas to which nutrients have been added after processing. Under current regulations, all grains offered with school meals must be whole grain rich – down to the croutons on the fresh salad bar. The change provides flexibility for schools struggling with product availability and allows schools to make special exceptions to appeal to diverse student tastes and regional preferences for items like white tortillas or biscuits that don’t meet current standards.
- SODIUM: Schools have made great strides in reducing sodium to meet Target 1 sodium levels, effective on July 1, 2014. However, school nutrition professionals have warned that later sodium targets will push many healthy options, like low-fat deli sandwiches, soups and salads off the menu, due in part to naturally occurring sodium in foods.
Expedited rulemaking in the new child nutrition legislation will enable the USDA to give schools two additional years to meet Target 2 limits, which will now take effect on July 1, 2019. Starting in 2019, a study will be conducted to determine whether scientific research supports the final sodium limits (effective July 1, 2022) and whether food companies are capable of preparing foods that meet those limits. The study will also evaluate the impact of Target 2 limits on student lunch participation, food cost, safety and food service operations.
- A LA CARTE: Smart Snacks in School regulations (effective July 1, 2014) severely limited the items sold in cafeteria a la carte lines, prohibiting the sale of everything from low-fat, whole-grain pizza to salads or hummus with a side of whole grain pretzels. As a result, students have fewer healthy choices in the cafeteria and schools have collected less revenue to offset the higher cost of meeting new regulations. This agreement will establish a working group to examine the impact of a la carte restrictions and recommend to USDA a list of allowable nutrient-rich food exemptions for a la carte sale.
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