Photograph by Debbi Morello/Getty Images.
Maybe lawmakers don't know that junk-food-loving school kids won't be the ones casting ballots in next year's elections.
The Associated Press reports that Congress is fighting the Obama administration's push to make school lunches healthier. Lawmakers released the final version of an agriculture spending bill late Monday, and the big takeway was this: It counts a couple tablespoons of pizza sauce as a full serving of vegetables.
The bill blocks or delays a number of proposed efforts from the Agriculture Department to ramp up school lunch standards, including new restrictions on sodium and potato servings, and calls for lunch ladies (and gentlemen) across the nation to dole out more whole grains.
The way things currently stand, the sauce on a single slice of pizza counts as a full serving of vegetables. But the USDA wanted to tweak those rules so that only a half cup of sauce or more counts as a full serving of vegetables. As Talking Points Memo notes, a half cup is a lot of sauce to slather on a single slice, and thanks to food companies’ lobbying efforts—to the tune of $5.6 million—a couple tablespoons will remain all that is needed to earn the vegetable distinction.
Now may be a good time to point out that, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 12.5 million U.S. children are obese.
The pizza-is-a-vegetable claim is reminding many nutritionists of Ronald Reagan’s controversial (and ultimately failed) push to count ketchup as a vegetable.
"It’s a shame that Congress seems more interested in protecting industry than protecting children’s health,” Margo Wootan, director of Nutrition Policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, told The Hill. "At a time when child nutrition and childhood obesity are national health concerns, Congress should be supporting USDA and school efforts to serve healthier school meals, not undermining them. Together the school lunch riders in the agriculture spending bill will protect industry’s ability to keep pizza and French fries on school lunch trays.”
USDA spokeswoman Courtney Rowe said Tuesday that the department will continue its efforts to make lunches healthier. "While it's unfortunate that some members of Congress continue to put special interests ahead of the health of America's children, USDA remains committed to practical, science-based standards for school meals," she said in a statement.