Hoeven Meets with North Dakota School Nutrition Professionals to Push Child Nutrition Reauthorization
Measure Incorporates Senator's Healthy School Meals Flexibility Act
WASHINGTON – Senator John Hoeven, who serves on the Senate Agriculture Committee, met with the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction and school food service directors to plan strategies to pass the Improving Child Nutrition Integrity and Access Act of 2016.
The legislation 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. The Senate Agriculture Committee approved the legislation unanimously earlier this year and Hoeven is continuing to push to get it to the Senate floor.
“On a national level, we worked with the School Nutrition Association and the National School Boards Association to write language that will provide school districts with needed flexibility for sodium levels and whole grain requirements,” Hoeven said. “The Agriculture Committee, USDA and the White House have now agreed to incorporate those provisions so that our schools will be able to serve nutritious meals within their budgets and that students will find appealing. Now, we need to work with Senate leadership and enlist the aid of state nutrition professionals in North Dakota and across the country to bring this bill to the Senate floor for a vote.”
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. The Agriculture Committee passed bill incorporates an agreement, based off 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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