Kansas Senator Feeds Concerns Over School Lunch

(WIBW) - Citing considerable public outcry, U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts wants officials to cook up a fresh look at new school lunch guidelines.

Roberts sent a letter Wednesday to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, questioning the guidelines. Roberts says his concerns include excessive waste due to kids not wanting to eat the meals; insufficient calories for active students; and the potential for schools to drop out of the program.

Roberts asked Vilsack to further study the standards, which are aimed at reducing childhood obesity.

It's the first time in 15 years that the federal government has given the school lunch menu a makeover. It sets calorie limits on the meals and encourages more fruit and vegetable servings. Since it launched this year, though, students and parents have complained the food doesn't taste as good and that students are left hungry, especially those who are involved in athletics.

The following is the text of Roberts' letter to Vilsack:

Dear Mr. Secretary:

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 requires the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) to revise the meal patterns and nutrition requirements for the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program. The final rule, effective as of March 26, 2012, increases the availability of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free and low-fat fluid milk in school meals, and aims to meet the nutritional needs of school children. I agree that improving the nutrition in school meals is a challenge deserving our attention. However, now that school districts have begun implementing the new standards, students, parents and administrators across the country are raising many concerns with the new rule.

The top concerns raised by my constituents and others thus far have been: (1) excessive plate waste due to kids not wanting to eat the new meals, especially the required servings of fruits and vegetables; (2) insufficient calories and protein to satisfy kids throughout the school day, particularly athletes, band members and students involved in after school activities; and (3) the potential for a large number of schools across the country to drop out of the program. Based on these concerns, please provide a response to the following questions, with sufficient data to explain the answers:

1.What is the cost estimate, in total and for each food group, for plate waste due to school children not wanting to eat the new meals? What is the cost comparison of an average meal under the new rule versus an average meal under the previous rules?

2.How many calories were served in an average meal under the previous rules?

3.According to guidance developed for young athletes by the University of Illinois Extension Service, while an average student may require 3000 calories daily, “an athletic teenage boy may need 5,000 calories a day.” What concessions were made in the rule to accommodate student athletes, and students involved in other extracurricular activities, who require a substantially greater number of calories during an average school week? What flexibilities can you offer schools to enable SFAs to meet the caloric needs of students who are significantly more active than the average student?

4.What is your estimate for how many schools will drop out of the National School Lunch and Breakfast programs, and what impact will less participation will have on the programs?

In addition, as I have stated in previous correspondence, I have concerns with the effect the rule will have on (1) the budgets of State agencies and local School Food Authorities (SFAs); (2) the U.S. economy; and (3) the U.S. food and agricultural industries. I specifically requested you provide the data necessary to answer a number of questions concerning the rule. While we have received some data from USDA, the response lacked information regarding the following questions:

•What is the remaining estimated cost of compliance for State agencies and SFAs? What will be the economic impact for schools that do not offer nonprogram foods, and for schools with a low percentage of paid meal reimbursements?

•The proposed rule includes a stand-alone nutrient requirement for sodium that “would make significant changes to the level of sodium in school meals over time,” and requires SFAs to meet three target reductions phased-in over 10 years. How will the SFAs be economically impacted by each of the three target reductions over the 10 year period? What products in the marketplace currently exist that will satisfy the menu needs of this provision for each of the 3 target reductions? What is the quality of data used for the basis of each of the sodium economic impact projections? What food safety and shelf life concerns may result from the significant reductions in sodium required by this provision, and what food products would the provision affect? What affect and economic impact would non-sodium spoilage retardants have on SFAs, student acceptance, and food products?

I look forward to receiving your response to these important questions in a timely manner.