Hoeven: Agriculture Appropriations Bill Provides Flexibility for School Meals in Sodium, Grain Requirements

WASHINGTON – Senator John Hoeven today announced that the Senate Appropriations Committee has approved the Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 Agriculture Appropriations Bill. The annual funding bill includes a provision Hoeven authored that provides schools flexibility in meeting the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) sodium and whole grain requirements under the National School Lunch and Breakfast programs. The measure still retains requirements for calories and fruits and vegetables.

“The full Appropriations Committee has passed an amendment I offered to provide more flexibility in the school lunch program,” Hoeven said. “This amendment will allow school nutritionists flexibility in the sodium and whole grain requirements, so they can serve meals the children will eat that are nutritious and that battle childhood obesity, but also help the schools make their budget.”

Specifically, this provision:

  • Allows schools to apply for a hardship waiver to retain the original USDA requirement for whole grains, which provides that half of all grains must be whole-grain rich, instead of requiring 100 percent. A similar exemption was provided in FY2015, during which over 1,400 schools across the country requested whole grain flexibility, reflecting the difficulty some schools are experiencing in acquiring specialty whole grain products, such as tortillas, biscuits and pizza crust, that children will accept and are locally available.
  • Maintains the Target 1 sodium reductions and prevents USDA from mandating future reductions until the latest scientific research indicates that even greater reductions are beneficial for children. Although Target 1 reductions are supported by school nutrition professionals nationwide, further reductions are not currently supported by scientific evidence and may be difficult to achieve in foods with naturally-occurring sodium, such as milk, cheese, meats and other foods.

The provision approved today is similar to Hoeven’s Healthy School Meals Flexibility Act, bipartisan legislation he introduced with Senator Angus King (I-Maine) this May that would provide permanent flexibility for schools in the USDA’s sodium and whole grain requirements. This legislation is endorsed by both the School Nutrition Association, the National School Boards Association and the School Superintendents Association.