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House committee passes child nutrition bill

The House Education and Labor Committee on Thursday passed its version of child nutrition legislation, bringing the multi-billion-dollar bill one step closer to passage.

Dubbed the Improving Nutrition for America’s Children Act of 2010, the bill proposes about $8 billion in additional funding over 10 years for child nutrition programs, including school breakfast and lunch. The programs have been the main focus of Michelle Obama’s high-profile Let’s Move campaign, which aims to end childhood obesity within a generation. About one-third of American children are overweight or obese, and, in difficult economic times, a growing number of children depend on school meals as a key source of healthful food.

The House version of the bill is similar to a Senate bill that is awaiting a floor vote. It mandates that the Department of Agriculture develop strict nutrition standards for foods sold in vending machines and in so-called a la carte lines. It also requires that only low-fat milk be sold in the lunch line.

Like the Senate measure, which proposes a $4.5 billion increase in funding, the House bill includes an additional six cents for each school lunch that meets federal standards. But it also asks for an additional half a cent per lunch to fund nutrition education, which might include student taste tests or redesigning a cafeteria to encourage students to make healthier choices. It also provides start-up grants for school breakfast programs and year-round meal service in some states.

The committee’s markup of the bill also introduced some new programs as amendments. For example, one amendment would establish a pilot program that would help selected schools to increase the quantity of organic food provided by the school lunch program. Another would create a pilot program to assist the USDA in identifying “cost-effective, marketable, easy-to-use” vegan foods for its commodities program, which provides free food to schools. Yet another amendment would expand after-school meal programs, create incentives for socially disadvantaged farmers who want to supply food to schools and require that schools receiving “green cafeteria” grants ban Styrofoam.

But the key difference between the Senate and House versions is that the Senate has identified funding for its $4.5 billion bill. The House, in contrast, has found just $1 billion of the $8 billion it would like to see spent.

Both bills now await a floor vote. Child nutrition advocates hope that will happen before the August recess. The current act expires on September 30.

-- Jane Black

By Jane Black  |  July 15, 2010; 2:00 PM ET
Categories:  Food Politics  | Tags: Jane Black, Michelle Obama, school lunch  
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