Udall, Collins Ask Ag Appropriators to Reconsider Funding Proposed Limits to Serving Starchy Vegetables in School Meals
In Letter, Senators Detail How Restrictions Needlessly Increase Cost of School Meals
Today, Mark Udall sent a bipartisan letter with Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) and six other senators asking Senate agriculture appropriators to consider legislative language that would ensure school meal providers have access to and can provide Colorado children with nutritious, affordable and locally accessible meal options, including appropriately prepared starchy vegetables, such as white potatoes, corn, green peas and lima beans. View the letter HERE.
On January 13, 2011, the USDA issued a proposed rule for nutrition standards in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs, which recommended limiting total servings of starchy vegetables to one cup per week and eliminating potatoes from school breakfasts. Farmers and school lunch providers fear that this restriction will result in significant challenges for food service operations. As the senators wrote in a letter to the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, and Related Agencies, the rule could unintentionally cost states and school districts up to $7 billion over five years – at a time when state and local governments don’t have money to spare. Additionally, the starchy vegetables the USDA is proposing to limit are significant sources of fiber, vitamins C and A, iron and other nutrients.
The senators ask that the committee include language in its agriculture appropriations bill stating that “none of the funds provided by this Act shall be available to implement new nutritional standards in the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs that would unnecessarily discriminate against certain vegetables….”
"We support the Department's goal to increase the availability of all fruits, vegetables, and whole grains in the school meal programs and to ensure the foods served in the meal programs are delivered in a fashion that meet the nutritional needs of children within their recommended caloric intake levels. However, we are concerned that the January 2011 proposed rule may unnecessarily limit nutritious and more affordable vegetables that are easily accessible to school districts and popular with school-age children," the senators wrote. "We believe that allowing schools the flexibility to make reasonable and suitable substitutions among affordable fresh and nutritious food options is a sensible way to keep costs at a reasonable level and ensure schools can provide consistent access to critical nutrients for children."
Udall has fought for a reasonable approach to school lunch nutrition regulations for some time. In April, Udall led a bipartisan letter to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack asking him to clarify the reasoning behind proposed rules to limit starchy vegetables in school meals. The Colorado School Nutrition Association wrote to Udall that its members are "extremely concerned about the unintended consequences of the proposed rule, specifically related to the dramatic increase in costs to local schools and the impact that the proposed changes could have on program participation and, as a result, access to healthy meals." The Colorado Potato Administrative Committee, which represents Colorado potato producers, also released the following statement:
“Unduly limiting the amount of starchy vegetables without regard to preparation methods or other important factors like cost is very concerning to Colorado’s potato producers. We appreciate Senator Udall’s common-sense efforts to ensure that we can continue our goal of delivering nutrient dense potatoes as a part of healthy meals to school children while allowing schools flexibility to cost effectively deliver the nutrients kids need."