Inquirer Editorial: Doesn't Congress know we are what we eat?

DEAN ROHRER
DEAN ROHRER
Posted: November 23, 2011

Congress was wrong to block new rules proposed by the Agriculture Department that would have overhauled the nation's school lunch program.

In a fight that had more do with adults and big business than the best interest of children, lawmakers sided with the frozen-food industry and potato growers.

An agriculture spending bill approved last week with bipartisan support rejected tougher guidelines for school lunch and breakfast programs. The proposed changes would have been the first in 15 years to the $11 billion lunch program and fell in line with President Obama's effort to end childhood hunger by 2015.

The Obama administration wanted to mandate more fruits, green vegetables, and whole grains. The guidelines would have limited sodium and starchy foods such as french fries. Frozen pizza, a regular school-lunch item, would no longer be routinely counted as a vegetable.

The proposal would have cost an estimated $6.8 billion over the next five years, and raised the cost of a school lunch by about 14 cents. But it wasn't cost, but taste, that opponents railed against.

The American Frozen Food Institute, which lobbies for frozen-pizza maker ConAgra Foods, french fries-maker McCain Foods, and other companies, said they didn't want to "change their products in a way that would make them unpalatable to students."

Does that sound like concern for kids' health at a time when childhood obesity has become a national crisis? Even without a mandate from Congress, school districts can put healthier foods on the menu. Students must be fed well mentally and physically.

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