Herman Cain would be so proud.
The final version of the House and Senate’s agriculture spending bill bucks recommendations by the Department of Agriculture to try to make school lunches healthier. The bill counts pizza sauce as a vegetable — as it is now — and resists efforts by the Agriculture Department to limit servings of starchy vegetables and sodium restrictions.
Tomato sauce is currently counted as a vegetable, but the USDA back in January tried to change the rules — the first change in 15 years to the $11 billion school-lunch program, the New York Times reports. The USDA wanted to require tomato paste and puree be credited as a vegetable based on the actual volume that is served. So - in a change from current standards - the scant layer of sauce served on a slice of pizza wouldn’t be classified as a vegetable. The USDA wanted a half-cup of tomato paste or more to be counted as a vegetable, the Associated Press reports.
But that’s a lot of sauce to slather on a pizza slice, and thanks to food companies’ lobbying efforts — to the tune of $5.6 million — a couple tablespoons of tomato sauce are still safe and sound as vegetables.
As The Hill reports, the bill is not too popular among health advocates:
“It’s a shame that Congress seems more interested in protecting industry than protecting children’s health,” said Margo Wootan, director of Nutrition Policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “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.”
And who could blame the reaction? The CDC estimates about 17 percent — or 12.5 million — of children between the ages of 2 and 19 are obese.
Nevertheless, the USDA says it will continue to work toward healthier school lunches, the AP reports. “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, USDA spokeswoman Courtney Rowe said in a statement.
Read more here.
David Taintor is TPM’s News Editor. He contributes to TPM’s Livewire coverage, among other areas. David is from Chanhassen, Minnesota, where, yes, it gets very cold. Reach him at taintor [at] talkingpointsmemo.com