School Lunches Become a Lobbying Battleground

With the 2010 law setting school nutrition standards slated to come up for renewal, school groups are pushing for changes. Food industry associations are less inclined to rock the boat.

The political battle over what ends up on kids’ lunch plates is looking pretty complicated these days.

The 2010 Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, which set requirements for the amounts of certain kinds of food that must be offered to schoolchildren each day, will be up for renewal in 2015. Even though many aspects of the law have yet to be implemented, school associations in particular are pushing for more flexibility.

School Groups’ Concerns

Speaking to Politico, the National School Boards Association said that complying with the law’s many provisions have proven problematic for districts. Schools also could potentially see decreased revenue when nutrition rules affecting food sold a la carte and from vending machines kick in later this year.

“We sometimes refer to this bill as death by 1,000 cuts,” NSBA Director of Federal Programs Lucy Gettman told the news website. “No one part of the act presents a significant burden on school boards, but when the pieces are put together, it can present a significant challenge.”

The School Nutrition Association has expressed similar concerns, citing one part of the 2010 law in particular—a requirement that schools serve a half-cup of fruits and vegetables to students at every meal. SNA says the rule is unpopular with older students in particular and could lead to an increase in food waste.

“This requirement that if a student just doesn’t want to take a fruit or vegetable, forcing those kids to take a fruit or vegetable. Many of our members are reporting back that is increasing dissatisfaction with school meals,” SNA Director of Media Relations Diane Pratt-Heavner told The Packer, a produce news website.

The two groups are pushing back against limitations on sodium intake and hope to open up a new period of comment on the portions of the law that affect foods sold in schools, according to Politico.

Food Groups More Supportive

For their part, members of the food industry appear largely supportive of the law in its current form and are unlikely to seek rollbacks of food rules, though some may oppose further limitations to sodium levels. And some groups, such as the United Fresh Produce Association, would like to see the law remain intact.

“We were very pleased with the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act in 2010. Quite frankly, it was very positive for fruits and vegetables,” Robert Guenther, United Fresh’s senior vice president of public policy, told Politico. “It doubled daily requirement of fruits and vegetables for 32 million children.”

A recent study by Harvard University researchers [PDF], which focused on four low-income schools in Massachusetts, appears to support the claim that the 2010 law increased children’s intake of fruits and vegetables but hasn’t increased waste.

“While there is no doubt that steps should be taken to lower the amount of overall food waste in schools,” the study stated, “the new standards from the USDA appear to be a step in the right direction by helping students to consume more fruits and vegetables without leading to an increase in the amount of food thrown away.”

SNA argues that the scope of the study was small and said it’s waiting for results of a larger USDA study on the issue.

“We are very interested in seeing what the USDA will find in their plate waste study as part of the broader meal cost study they have planned,” Pratt-Heavner told The Packer.

(Digital Vision/Thinkstock)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

Got an article tip for us? Contact us and let us know!