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School lunch compromise good news to fresh fruit, vegetable suppliers

WASHINGTON — Fruit and vegetable companies will continue to sell to schools that must meet improved nutrition standards thanks to a deal cut in the FY 2015 omnibus spending bill signed Dec. 16 by President Obama.

The appropriations bill that funds U.S. Department of Agriculture programs hit a roadblock when an amendment passed that would have allowed schools struggling to meet the strict standards to be granted a waiver. 

“Although well-intended, some of USDA’s rules went too far, too fast, and ended up driving students away from healthy school meals while unnecessarily driving up costs for schools,” said School Nutrition Association CEO Patricia Montague, who backed the waiver.

A coalition of groups, including the United Fresh Produce Association, urged Congress not to allow schools to opt out of all the new provisions, and this month lawmakers agreed to a compromise that allowed schools flexibility in meeting the whole grain and sodium standards.

“Congress agreed that rolling back the very modest requirement that kids get one-half cup of fruits and vegetables in their lunch would not be good policy and would have been detrimental to achieving our shared public health goal, which is to help children learn to make half-their-plate fruits and vegetables,” said Tom Stenzel, president and chief executive officer of United Fresh. “The modest half-a-cup requirement is one step toward a lifetime of better health for today’s kids, and lower long-term healthcare costs for our country.”

The agreement also sets the stage for next year’s reauthorization of child nutrition programs, which expire in 2015.

“Schools need help in modernizing and streamlining procurement processes, updating refrigeration and cafeteria equipment, and financial resources to support healthy meals,” Stenzel said. “The solution contained in the omnibus passed today resolves a past debate, and sets all of us on a positive course where we can work together to serve our nation’s children.”

On a related note, a draft report from the committee developing the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans reported this week the U.S. population has made few dietary changes from 2001-2010, with fruit intake low but stable and vegetable intake declining.

The committee, which recommends changes to the guidelines every five years, is set to recommend U.S. consumers follow a diet high in vegetable, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy, seafood, legumes and nuts, and low in red and processed meat, added sugars and refined grains.

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Compromise Legislation Would Strengthen South Dakota’s Animal Cruelty Law

The last state in the union to make animal cruelty a felony now appears serious about getting on the boards.

The South Dakota Legislature, which was gaveled into session on Monday, is again being asked to reform state animal abuse laws. This time, however, a year of work by the state’s livestock industry and animal-welfare groups has put the new law within reach, according to  State Veterinarian Dustin Oedekoven.

South Dakota was recently called out by the Humane Society of the United States for having the weakest animal cruelty laws in the country, with no offense to animals rising above a misdemeanor.

But now Senate Bill (SB) 46 has been introduced at the request of the South Dakota Animal Industry Board to completely rewrite the state’s animal-welfare law and establish a felony penalty for the most egregious acts of animal cruelty.

In its recent rankings, HSUS listed South Dakota’s animal-protection laws as “dead last” among the 50 states and the District of Columbia. The state’s existing law makes it possible to charge a felony only for owning dogs for the purpose of fighting them, but not for animal cruelty.

SB 46 includes legal definitions for what it means to “mistreat” and “neglect” animals. Anyone who “may neglect, abandon, or mistreat” an animal could be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor under the proposed new law.

Anyone who subjects an animal to cruelty may be charged with a Class 6 felony. Conviction would carry a two-year term in state prison and a fine of up to $ 4,000.

SB 46 includes a provision for “humane killing,” scientific research following established protocols, and “usual and customary” livestock practices. Current restrictions on dog fighting would be expanded to include all animal fighting. Law enforcement officers investigating sport or exhibition animal fighting could enter properties where it is occurring without a warrant, nor would a warrant be required where a severe animal injury is involved.

SB 46 also includes a mechanism for county animal control officers to work with local nonprofit animal-welfare groups.

The seven-member SD Animal Industry Board includes representatives of cattle and pork producers, veterinarians, auction owners/operators, sheep growers, dairy producers and livestock feeders. The board has police powers over the state’s livestock. It has worked with South Dakotans Fighting Animal Cruelty Together (SD FACT),  which supports SB 46 as now drafted.

Placing food animals in pain or extended periods of discomfort makes them more likely to become sick or diseased, which is why humane animal treatment is a food safety topic.

Food Safety News