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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