Senate committee votes to ease whole grain standard in schools

by Jeff Gelski
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The whole grain-rich standard in school meals would drop to 80% from 100% under new legislation.

WASHINGTON — The whole grain-rich standard in school meals would drop to 80% from 100% under legislation agreed upon Jan. 20 by the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry. The legislation, titled “Improving Child Nutrition Integrity and Access Act of 2016,” also calls for a study on the impact of a sodium standard in school meals.

Robb MacKie, president and c.e.o. of the American Bakers Association

“Consumer data clearly shows that America’s school children are not getting enough grains, and especially whole grains, in their diet,” said Robb MacKie, president and chief executive officer of the American Bakers Association. “The Agriculture Committee’s action today will create much-needed flexibility and clarity to introduce kids to wholesome and delicious whole grain products they will actually eat. This is vitally important with emerging science from Stanford and Arizona State University that shows the health detriments of not eating enough fiber, of which whole grains are a leading source.”

The Whole Grains Council, Boston, noted “whole grain-rich” means half of the grains in a food are whole, not that the food is 100% whole grains.

“So ‘80% whole grain-rich’ is actually a euphemism for making a meager 40% of your grains whole,” the Whole Grains Council said. “Major media outlets are calling this agreement a truce, as it doesn’t honor the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act to its full extent, but also doesn’t back‐pedal all the way to the measly 50% whole grain-rich, which was rumored in some circles.

“While we exhaled a huge sigh of relief when whole grain requirements didn’t get rolled back to an embarrassing 50% whole grain-rich, the new rollback is still a step in the wrong direction. The change to make 80% of foods whole grain-rich (in other words, only 40% of grains must be whole grain) is not in alignment with the newly released 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which recommend making at least half your grains whole.”

As to sodium, the legislation states the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture no later than July 1, 2019, shall contract with an independent entity to conduct a review of the nutrition standard for sodium. The review should examine the impact of the rule and whether further reduction in sodium is necessary.

Nancy Brown, c.e.o. of the American Heart Association

“Overall, this bill is a win for children’s health that builds on the strong progress we’ve made in the last several years,” said Nancy Brown, c.e.o. of the American Heart Association, Dallas. “While we worked hard in support of the original science-based nutrition standards for school meals, we support the Senate and its admirable job of crafting a compromise on sodium and whole grains standards so the bill could move forward.

“We are particularly pleased that sodium reduction is moving forward with just a two-year extension on the next target, and that target three is on track for the 2022 school year. This agreement demonstrates that the science is clear on the need to lower sodium to moderate levels in school meals.”

The School Nutrition Association, National Harbor, Md., praised the Senate committee’s actions.

Jean Ronnei, president of The School Nutrition Association

"The School Nutrition Association greatly appreciates the leadership of the Senate Agriculture Committee in crafting a bipartisan reauthorization bill that offers practical solutions for school meal programs and the students they serve," said Jean Ronnei, president of the association.

The legislation preserves strong standards to benefit students while easing regulatory mandates on school meal programs, according to the association. Among other key provisions, the bill establishes school equipment grants and loan assistance, returns to a five-year administrative review cycle, and eases Paid Lunch Equity mandates, which should allow more schools to maintain affordable meal prices for families, according to the association. The association was disappointed that the bill does not increase the federal reimbursement rate for school meals.

Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas

“Folks said we couldn’t come to an agreement on child nutrition reauthorization, let alone a bipartisan solution, but we did,” said Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas, the chairman of the committee. “This legislation is a true compromise. Not everyone got everything they wanted, but a lot of folks have a lot to be happy about.”

Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan

Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, ranking member of the committee, said, “This bipartisan bill puts the health of America’s children first. We are making sure our children get nutritious meals based on smart, science-based policies to give every child a fair shot at success. The investments made in this bill will give important new resources to fight hunger, from WIC to the summer meals program.”

For more on the legislation, visit link.
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