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Food fight: Federal healthy lunch regulations have some gagging
Member Exchange Educa Werm
A second-grade class eats lunch at Wingate Elementary School May 29 in Wingate, Pa. District officials had been working on more diverse fruit and vegetable selections and heartier portions of those healthier choices long before the U.S. Department of Agriculture required it. They also had been working to switch to whole-grain breads. But the Bald Eagle Area School District has seen an increase in students packing lunches since implementing new lunch standards. - photo by AP Photo/Centre Daily Times, Nabil K. Mark

A new Rasmussen poll finds that just 25 percent of Americans believe the federal government should set school lunch nutrition standards; 51 percent think those decisions should be made locally, while 15 percent prefer to see state governments decide.

The poll is more bad news for the White House in the national food fight over school lunch nutrition.

The controversy stems from 2010 legislation known as the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which mandated standards with more whole grains, fruits and vegetables, lean protein, and low-fat dairy, as well as less sugar, fat, and sodium.

The standards quickly generated controversy, both for their cost and because kids were less than thrilled with the food.

"Some of the stuff we had to offer, they wouldn't eat," Superintendent Gary Lewis from Catlin, Illinois, told CBS last year. "So you sit there and watch the kids, and you know they're hungry at the end of the day, and that led to some behavior and some lack of attentiveness."

Late last month the House Appropriations Committee approved an Agriculture budget bill that would allow a school to opt out of the regulations for one year if the school can show it is losing money.

The waiver provision was approved by the committee on a party line vote, The New York Times reported. This moves the bill to the House, which should consider it sometime in the next several weeks.

The White House was not amused.

"This is unacceptable," first lady Michelle Obama said at a White House meeting, according to the Times report. "It's unacceptable to me not just as first lady but also as a mother." Time reports that she specifically called out Republicans for making school lunches a partisan issue.

"The stakes couldn't be higher on this issue," she said, pointing to obesity statistics in both children and adults. "The last thing we can afford to do right now is play politics with our kids' health."

Once a waiver becomes law, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told the Times, it usually stays there. School districts could manipulate the waiver to make it appear they are losing money on lunches, he said.

Despite the first lady's insistence, there is some evidence that this is more than a partisan issue. The School Nutrition Association, which represents 55,000 school nutritionists, is calling for schools to have more flexibility in planning menus.

"The School Nutrition Association supports ensuring students receive healthy, well-balanced meals that help them succeed in the classroom, and we are proud of our members who are successfully encouraging students to make more nutritious choices," SNA President Leah Schmidt said in a statement last week.

"SNA celebrates every success, but the administration's own data proves that student participation in school lunch is abruptly down in 48 states despite rising school enrollment and 30 years of steady program growth," Schmidt said.



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