WASHINGTON — A Senate committee voted May 22 on a compromise amendment that would help schools adjust to new nutrition standards but without allowing schools to opt out of the new standards that require more fruits and vegetables in school meals.
The latest vote comes just two days after a House subcommittee voted to grant the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture authority to hand out waivers if schools can demonstrate hardship in meeting the revamped nutrition standards. The issue has become a powder keg on Capitol Hill during the debate over USDA's fiscal 2015 spending measure.
Spearheaded by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), the amendment would require technical changes on sodium contained in the federally supported meals, require a report on the acceptable range whole grain products and come up with a plan to provide schools with training and technical assistance.
Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND) advocated for waivers to directly help schools that cannot meet the standards. Harkin said he would not support "blanket waivers," prompting Hoeven to agree to the compromise amendment at this time. The bill still has to be considered by the full Senate next week.
"We commend the Senate Appropriations Committee for its sensible resolution of debate over implementation of the 2012 school meal regulations," Tom Stenzel, president and chief executive officer of the United Fresh Produce Association, said in a statement released after the vote.
"Now that a sensible, bipartisan solution has prevailed in the Senate, we encourage all players to step back from the debate and come together to better help schools meet these simple fruit and vegetable standards," Stenzel said. "The fresh produce industry stands ready to support the School Nutrition Association and all of its members in implementing the fruit and vegetable requirements."
The Senate Appropriations Committee also voted to add white potatoes to the supplemental feeding package supplied to Women, Infants and Children recipients, an amendment offered by Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME). Collins said the nutritious commodity had been unfairly excluded.
As part of a compromise, the amendment would not allow vegetables with added sugars, fats or oils from being purchased with WIC vouchers, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture would have to conduct an evaluation of the nutrient value of all fresh fruits and vegetables to determine what should be in the package.
Harkin adamantly opposed the amendment, saying this would be the first time in the WIC's 40-year history that Congress had overruled experts on the recommended food package, and that white potatoes should be excluded until USDA completes its report.