Renew The Child Nutrition Act – The Senate Needs Help

July 31st, 2010 by Heather Pritchard

It’s time to vote, or at least we may think it is time for the Renewal of the Child Nutrition Act and I’ve been following very closely for almost a year now.

This is important policy that affects the lives of thirty million kids a day and what may be the only source of nutrition they receive if they are facing hardships in their personal lives. School food matters, what we chose to feed our children is a reflection of what our priorities are as a society. Not only does it say how important do we think our children’s health is, but it has been proven to have an impact on their ability to learn, thrive and succeed academically.

And the other issue at the forefront here is tied to health care, sustainable agriculture and where our Government puts its farm subsidies. Boy, and you thought it was just school lunches.

So, Slow Food is where I started because because it’s National and local and they had clear goals outlined with an action plan with their Time for Lunch campaign. It’s also how I become involved in my local chapter.

Slow Food USA outlined three main goals for the program:

1. A full investment of at least $1 billion per year in order to help schools serve healthier food. President Obama has proposed investing $1 billion per year, but school meal providers say a truly healthy school lunch program requires $4 billion per year. That’s the goal we need to work towards, because that’s what schools need. Investing in healthy food now will save hundreds of billions in health care costs down the line.

2. Stronger nutrition standards for all the food sold at school, including the food sold in school vending machines.

3. Mandatory funding of $50 million over five years for Farm to School programs, which create local jobs and help schools teach healthy eating.

In the middle of July, the bill finally came out of the House’s committee with some good news and bad news. Funding is a huge issue. Paygo is limiting funds for school lunches and means the full one dollar is not even close to coming to fruition.

But they did get the $50 million for Farm to School programs, which is a huge boost to local economies and a push for more local agriculture. This usually also means less big AG, a huge for locavores.

And as Jill Richardson pointed out on her post, School Lunch Bill Passes House Committee, Includes Organic and Vegan Pilot Programs the bill also included two amazing new pilot programs, one for organic foods and one for vegan programs and, “they will evaluate which foods are superior in cost-effectiveness, marketability to school food authorities, ease of preparation and use, and acceptance by the kids.”

So now where is this going? To the Senate of course, where all good things go to die or get watered down. I know, I can’t help myself.

Yesterday, Senator Blanche Lincoln held a press conference to urge the passage of the bill in the Senate.

Washington- U.S. Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry was joined by Senator Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), and other Senators today to urge passage of the The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (S.3307). The bill will reauthorize child nutrition programs before they expire on September 30th. The bi-partisan, completely paid-for legislation will make the most historic investment in child nutrition programs since their inception.

The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act will put us on a path to end childhood hunger and obesity and improve the health of the next generation of Americans. If we miss the opportunity to pass this bill and improve these programs, it will be our children who pay the price for our inaction. This bill is bipartisan, completely paid for and provides common-sense solutions to addressing childhood hunger and obesity. Congress should pass this bill before August and make an investment in our children that will last a lifetime,” said Lincoln.

“I compliment the leadership of Chairman Blanche Lincoln and Ranking Member Saxby Chambliss in developing a bipartisan bill that improves child nutrition programs. As a former chairman of the Agriculture Committee, I know the difficulties in moving nutrition legislation. This bill was approved by the committee in March. There has been no significant opposition since then. For many children from low income homes, food from child nutrition programs may provide the bulk of the nutrition they receive during the day. Children have no choice in their family’s circumstances, and these meals are critical to their chance for success and better health. This is as close to a moment of significant progress and constructive consensus as can be achieved. Given our economic climate, we should seize this moment to pass the bill,” said Lugar.

Is the bill all it could be? No, it only provides a dime and a penny more per child, per meal. Six cents, that’s what pay go got our kids.

On the nutrition side, the bill would provide schools that meet new school standards an additional 6 cents per meal. It also gives the ag secretary the authority to establish national nutrition standards for all foods sold on school campus throughout the school day. This provision is likely to be controversial with local school districts that have used money from foods sold in vending machines to pay for school sports programs and with some food companies that fill the machines, but it is a key goal of nutritionists and the Obama administration.

A lot of good new nutrition standards do us if we can’t pay for them.

BUT, it still needs our support. Next year is the renewal of the Farm bill which will decide what actually goes in our kids lunches, right now, a lot of the crap our Government subsidizes gets sent to school lunch programs.

If we can actually get the Farm bill to subsidize small organic farmers, less big AG (ha, I know), polyculture, and other means that actually help our environment rather than desegregate, we can also help get more fruits and vegetables on the plates of our kids, whole grains etc. because it will be cheaper for the schools to BUY IT.

Our kids don’t need spent chickens and processed crap that is brought in frozen and by the bulk, the Food Revolution was televised but were enough people paying attention?

I know you are. So this bill is not perfect. But we need to urge the Senate to pass it. Then push for the House version to go through and then really work on getting a much better Farm bill next year.

I know how tired we are of incremental change, but I think this is the most favorable route we have for now.

Make the call. Here is how to contact your Senator. It’s got bipartisan support.

I consulted Jill Richardson and Gordon Jenkins from Slow Food USA on this piece and would like to thank them for the input.

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