School nutrition group turns on Michelle O, now fighting federal lunch regulations

July 7, 2014

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Victor Skinner Victor Skinner

Victor is a communications specialist for EAG and joined in 2009. Previously, he was a newspaper journalist.
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WASHINGTON, D.C. – The federal government’s attempt to force public school students to eat “healthier” lunches is falling apart at the seams.

trashlunchMost recently, the School Nutrition Association – which initially championed the new federal lunch standards on fruits, vegetables, salt, fat, sugar and virtually every other aspect of school lunches when they were implemented in 2012 – is now lobbying Congress to dial back the “overly prescriptive” and expensive changes, the New York Times News Service reports.

“Congress is listening, and it is considering legislation to delay the nutrition regulations for a year, some of which have already gone into effect. But some of the association’s onetime allies in the school-meal campaign are mystified, if not suspicious, concerning the group’s motivations,” the news service reports.

RELATED: Michelle O vows, ‘I’m going to fight until the bitter end’

SNA officials rightly point out that many students are throwing away the additional fruits and vegetables included in their lunches, amounting to $684 million in food waste every year – or roughly “enough to serve complete reimbursable school lunches to more than 228 million students,” according to the Times.

The association contends the “nutritious” federal lunch menu is also proving costly for many school districts that are now forced to purchase more expensive foods to comply with the new regulations.

SNA reportedly first expressed concerns about the new federal regulations in 2011, and later met with Agriculture Department officials, but have been largely ignored. That prompted SNA leaders to call on Congress instead, and they have now targeted the group’s lobbying efforts at lawmakers in the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, which are considering legislation to waive the nutrition standards for next school year, according to the Times news service.

“SNA saw the appropriations process as the only way of providing our members immediate relief,” Diane Pratt-Heavner, SNA spokeswoman, told the Times.

The SNA’s 180 on the school nutrition standards directly conflicts with other nutrition groups, teachers unions and parent-teacher organizations that want to press forward with the federal lunch regulations regardless of the impact on students or schools.

First Lady Michelle Obama, the top cheerleader for the “healthier” lunches, as well as numerous past presidents of the SNA have urged Congress not to delay the new lunch rules. Meanwhile, an increasing number of local school districts are opting out of the federal lunch program because of lost revenue tied to the food restrictions. In other words, many schools are losing more in lunch sales because of the federal regulations than they receive in subsidies from the government to provide the food.

Regardless, proponents of the new lunch standards are lobbing wild accusations at SNA leaders for the group’s decision to side with its members, claiming the association is simply pandering to food companies that help sponsor its work.

“They sold their souls to the devil,” said Stanley Garnett, who resigned from the SNA in protest of the group’s change of heart.

Garnett alleges the SNA is thinking more about the revenue it receives from corporate sponsorship fees than it is about students in the nation’s classrooms.

“Proponents of the regulations are trying hard to explain away SNA’s efforts by spinning theories about industry influence,” SNA President Leah Schmidt wrote in a letter to members, according to the Times.

SNA critics contend the group sold out to big food companies that don’t like the “healthy” lunch overhaul, but what they don’t discuss is the overwhelming evidence that many parents and school nutrition experts also dislike the new rules.

Aside from the significant school lunch revenue declines and massive food waste tied to the changes, hungry students across the country have protested against the strict nutrition guidelines.

Many student athletes, for example, have argued their limited-calorie lunches leave them famished. Parents have reported their children are now going without school lunch, then binge eating when they get home. Parents have also complained about ridiculously strict interpretations of the federal lunch rules, which have resulted in a ban on birthday cupcakes in classrooms, among other things.

Members of the House Appropriations Committee recently approved legislation to relax the rules for a year, and the measure is now headed for a vote before the full House some time after the Fourth of July recess, the Times reports.

SNA officials are also planning to discuss their concerns in a meeting with the Obama administration and other nutrition advocates July 10, according to the news service.

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