Don’t Panic Over the “No Hungry Kids Act” – Plus a New Bill to Ensure School Food Safety

Couldn’t figure out who to credit here, but no rights claimed in this beloved character from my 70’s childhood! 🙂

I wanted to update readers on two school food-related bills pending in the House of Representatives:

“No Hungry Kids Act”

In the last few weeks, many – many! – TLT readers have contacted me in a panic over the “No Hungry Kids Act,” introduced by Republican congressman Steve King (R-IA). It’s gotten a lot of attention in part because it’s included in a larger bill (HR 610) that would essentially abolish the entire Department of Education, empowering that agency to do nothing except award block grants to states to be used in school voucher programs.

If you read the text of the bill that pertains to school food, it’s pretty clear why parents are so alarmed: it calls for a complete repeal of all nutrition standards currently governing the national school lunch and breakfast programs. Lovely.

But readers need to know that King has been trying to gain traction on this bill in the last three congressional sessions and it’s never gone anywhere. Sources I’ve spoken with in D.C. believe this current iteration of the bill will meet the same fate, noting that it has few co-sponsors and hasn’t been scheduled for a mark-up in the House Education and Workforce Committee. And PredictGov, which assesses the chances of a bill becoming law, gives HR 610 a mere 2 percent chance of enactment. (Apparently, the portion of the bill pertaining to education funding also seems to be a nonstarter, with observers assessing it as “dead on arrival.”)

If any of that changes, I’ll of course keep you posted here.

“American Food for American Schools Act of 2016”

Yesterday, Politico‘s Morning Agriculture report highlighted HR 6299, aka the “American Food for American Schools Act of 2016,” which was introduced in late February by Reps. Doug LaMalfa (R-CA) and John Garamendi (D-CA). The goal of the bill is to help ensure the safety of the food served to kids in school meal programs.

Here’s the background: Although school districts are currently required under a “Buy American” regulation to source all of their school food domestically, they’re allowed to bypass this restriction if they can demonstrate to the USDA that imported food is “significantly” less costly. But because food safety standards abroad may not be as rigorous as our own, districts’ exploitation of this loophole could potentially put children at risk of food-borne illnesses. Moreover, some districts are reportedly buying foreign products without even seeking USDA’s approval.

According to LaMalfa’s press release, the American Food for American Schools Act  “would legally require school nutrition providers to seek a waiver in order to use foreign commodities and products. Additionally, waiver requests must be made available to the public to ensure accountability and provide American farmers and food providers an opportunity to seek out school districts that need affordable American-grown food.”

All of this may sound familiar to those of you who followed my and Nancy Huehnergarth’s successful campaign back in 2014 to keep chicken processed in China out of school meals. Before the petition’s launch, the USDA had mislead parents into believing that this potentially unsafe poultry couldn’t be used in school meals because of the “Buy American” provision, but as I exposed here on The Lunch Tray, schools could easily use the cost waiver described above. (In the case of our Chinese-processed poultry campaign, the waiver loophole was eliminated via language inserted into the last two federal budget bills defunding the purchase of such poultry for school meals.)

According to the Morning Agriculture report, the bill has the support of a number of agricultural groups as well as six co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle. I’ll keep you posted on the bill’s progress as warranted.

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