Farm bill may include standards for foods in schools

by Jay Sjerven
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WASHINGTON — Indications were Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture Nutrition and Forestry, plans to include in his markup of the farm bill a measure mandating nutrition standards for foods and beverages available in public schools outside the school lunch and breakfast programs. Prepared meals in the schools already must conform with standards set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Senator Harkin’s proposal would set similar standards for snack foods and beverages sold within the confines of schools both during the school day and during after-school activities.

Senator Harkin long has championed restricting access of students on campus to foods of minimal nutritional value. He is the principal sponsor of the Child Nutrition Promotion and School Lunch Protection Act that aims to update nutrition standards for snack foods sold in school cafeterias alongside the regular meals as well as in vending machines and stores on school grounds. That bill was introduced in March and referred to the Senate agriculture committee. It has 21 co-sponsors.

A report issued in April by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences provided specific nutrition goals for "competitive" foods, or foods offered outside the federally subsidized school lunch and breakfast programs. It was expected Senator Harkin will use the I.O.M.’s recommendations in his proposal.

The I.O.M. established two tiers of food and beverages that it would allow in public schools. Tier 1 foods and beverages would provide at least one serving of fruit, vegetables or whole grains, or of nonfat or low-fat dairy products, and would be encouraged.

Tier 2 foods and beverages fall short of meeting Tier 1 criteria, but they do not fall outside the D.G.A. recommendations. Tier 2 foods must not exceed 200 calories as packaged. No more than 35% of total calories may come from fat, with less than 10% from saturated fat. Sugar may contribute no more than 35% of total calories, and sodium content must be 200 mg or less. There should be zero trans fat.

Tier 2 beverages must be non-caffeinated, non-fortified and have less than 5 calories per portion as packaged.

"We support comprehensive school nutrition standards, but we don’t support Congress mandating them," said John Popp, chairman, Independent Bakers Association. "The correct approach would be transparent rule-making through the U.S. Department of Agriculture. School nutrition standards don’t belong in the farm bill. They should be part of the Child Nutrition Reapplication Standards, which don’t come up until 2009."

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