WASHINGTON, D.C. – The School Nutrition Association, which represents 55,000 school food service professionals, is calling on Congress to pump the brakes on Michelle Obama’s school lunch restrictions.

The SNA released a 2015 Position Paper this week highlighting how the organization would like to see Congress amend the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 – Michelle Obama sponsored school lunch restrictions – as lawmakers look to reauthorize the rules this year, according to an SNA release.

The position paper illustrates the devastating effect the act’s restrictions on calories, fat, sodium and other elements of school food has had on the number of students participating in the National School Lunch Program, school lunchroom sales, and food waste in schools across the country.

USDA data shows that since the new rules were implemented, 1.4 million fewer children choose school lunch each day,” according to the release. “Declining student participation reduces meal program revenue for schools already stressed by higher food and labor costs under the new regulations.

“USDA estimates the new rules add $1.2 billion to the cost of preparing school meals in Fiscal Year 2015 alone. As a result, only half of school meal program operators anticipate their programs will break even at the end of this school year, according to a recent SNA survey.”

Other research, conducted by Cornell and Brigham Young University, shows the requirement that student take a fruit or vegetable whether they want it or not has also created an estimated $684 million in annual food waste.

“SNA supports strong federal nutrition standards for school meals, including calorie caps and mandates to offer a greater quantity and variety of fruits and vegetables,” SNA CEO Patricia Montague said in the statement.

“However, some of the USDA’s regulations und the law have unnecessarily increased costs and waste for school meal programs and caused many students to swap healthy school meals for junk food fare.”

The SNA is suggesting several fixes for lawmakers to consider.

“The SNA is proposing increasing the per meal reimbursement for school breakfasts and lunches by 35 cents, maintaining the Target 1 sodium level reductions and suspending implementation of further targets,” The Hill reports.

“The group is also calling on Congress to revert back to the 2010 standard that requires at least half of all grains offered to be whole grain rich. The standard now is for 100 percent of all grains offered to be whole grain rich.”

Other recommendations include allowing school food managers to decide if students must take a fruit or vegetable as part of a reimbursable meal, easing restrictions on a la carte items, and simplifying the federal rules and requirements school employees must follow.

Not everyone, however, is thrilled with the SNA’s suggestions. First lady Michelle Obama, for one, has vowed to fight for the current federal school food restrictions “until the bitter end.”  Fox reported.

And the United Fresh Produce Association is also upset over the SNA’s call to ease the mandatory requirement for fruits or vegetables.

“The requirement that kids receive one-half cup of fruits or vegetables in school meals is being successfully met by tens of thousands of schools across the country,” Tom Stenzel, the group’s president and CEO, said in a release, according to Agri-Pulse.com.

“This is a modest step for the health of our children, especially in these critical learning years. When health classes teach students to make Half Their Plate consist of fruits and vegetables, it would be unconscionable for the school cafeteria to undercut that message by not serving at least one-half cup in school meals,” he said.

Regardless, SNA officials released their position paper this year as a rally call for its 43rd annual Legislative Action Conference in March in Washington, D.C., where “approximately 1,000 school nutrition professionals from across the nation will descend on Capitol Hill as part of the LAC’s ‘Charge the Hill’” campaign, according to the SNA release.

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