The legislative events of last week had to surprise parents and educators who struggle to provide children with sound nutritional choices in a world often inhospitable to healthy behavior. Last Thursday night, lawmakers stripped the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) ability to limit starchy vegetables — including potatoes — in new school nutrition guidelines, and prevented the agency from increasing the amount of tomato paste required to classify as a vegetable. This goes beyond pizza. It undoes Congress’ own mandate of less than a year ago. Under the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010, USDA was required to promulgate new school lunch guidelines, and ensure that what we serve our kids is in line with national dietary guidelines. The bill passed Congress with overwhelming bipartisan support and marked the first opportunity in 15 years to significantly improve the quality and nutritional value of cafeteria meals.
Until last week, the rulemaking at USDA, prescribed by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, was steadily and properly unfolding. USDA, following the normal regulatory process, provided an ample platform for feedback. It received 130,000 comments on the Institute of Medicine-based nutritional guidelines — comments that spanned a spectrum of interests and perspectives. USDA was in the process of reviewing the comments and of promulgating a final rule when the Congress went around the process, using the 2012 Agriculture appropriations bill as a vehicle to undermine their earlier provision on healthier meals in schools. As former USDA Secretaries, we find this action very disappointing; we trust it will be self-defeating, as well. Good policy making should be guided by sound science and shaped by the views of a broad base of public input. In this case involving the health and well being of school kids, the normal procedures seem to have been replaced by the desire to preserve the status quo in the meals programs.
Read the full op-ed here.
Read more about BPC’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Initiative here.