Childrens' Lunch Bill Clears Senate Panel - Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act

Dec 2009
WASHINGTON ? Senators cleared the path Wednesday for a final vote on legislation to bolster the safety and nutritional value of school lunches, including provisions to improve training for cafe-teria workers and to alert schools more quickly about recalls of contaminated food.
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 would commit an additional $4.5 billion to child-nutrition programs over the next 10 years and implement the most sweeping changes to those programs in decades. Among other things, the bill directs the U.S. Department of Agriculture to set new nutrition standards for all food served in schools, from lunchrooms to vending machines.
"This bill. .. puts us on the path to ending childhood hunger and addressing the epidemic of childhood obesity," said Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, which passed the bill unanimously and sent it to the full Senate for a vote later this year. The House has yet to act on its version of the legislation.

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The safety initiatives in the Senate bill follow a USA TODAY series that found dangerous flaws in government programs that are supposed to guarantee that food served to students is free of E. coli O157:H7, salmonella and other contaminants.
The newspaper found that 23,000 children were sickened by food they ate at school from 1998 through 2007, and it highlighted instances in which schools unwittingly served students food that had been recalled. The newspaper also found that norovirus, usually linked to improper food handling, is the most common food-borne illness in schools, yet about 26,000 school cafeterias have not had mandatory, twice-yearly inspections.
"Schools aren't getting all the information they need from the federal government to keep our kids safe from tainted products," said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y. Gillibrand added language to the bill that would direct the USDA to develop new procedures for giving schools advance warning when a product in school meals is facing a recall.
The bill also requires additional training and qualification standards for cafeteria staff at schools that participate in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs. Those programs help feed about 31 million students a day, about 62% of whom qualify for free or reduced-price meals.
The legislation, a revamping of the Child Nutrition Act first passed in 1966, authorizes all manner of child feeding programs, including farm-to-school programs, an idea pushed by first lady Michelle Obama to encourage schools to buy produce from local farms and establish school gardens.
One of the bill's chief goals is to expand the number of students eligible for free or reduced-price meals. For example, schools in high-poverty areas could deem all their students to be eligible, without having to show proof of family income. And all foster children would automatically be eligible for those meals.
Schools would get a financial incentive to adopt the new nutrition standards that the bill requires ? standards that the USDA would write, based on recommendations from the Institute of Medicine. Those schools that implement the new rules would get an additional 6 cents per meal added to their federal reimbursement rate. Current reimbursement rates, which give schools $2.68 for each lunch they serve, have not changed since 1973, except for inflation adjustment, and schools have long complained that they are insufficient.
The 6-cent increase will help, said Dora Rivas, director of meal programs for the Dallas Independent School District and president of the School Nutrition Association, which represents the nation's school food service directors. But Rivas noted that the association "will encourage legislators to find additional funds to ensure these (school meal) programs can meet Institute of Medicine goals and increase availability of fresh fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products and whole grains."
Before Wednesday's vote, Lincoln said that additional funding is unlikely, because additional increases would have to be offset by cuts in other agriculture programs. The current bill falls far short of President Obama's request for $10 billion in added spending over the next 10 years for child nutrition programs, which currently cost $16.3 billion a year.
"We felt that (the $4.5 billion increase) was the maximum we could take" from other agriculture programs, said Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss, the Agriculture Committee's senior Republican. Chambliss, who supports the child nutrition bill, noted that "there's never enough money," but he said the pending legislation will make big strides in combating child obesity and "improving the health and livelihood of our children."


When I was at school, I always wondered specifically why in orientations, cafeteria staff always talked about buying healthy yet they serve us junk. I don't get why they aren't just banning junk food like they should.

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