In a confusing move that will affect the health of the nation’s children, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced last week that the department is lifting the limits on the amounts of grain and meat products allowed in school lunches.
According to the Huffington Post, in a letter to Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D. Vilsack said of the decision, “This flexibility is being provided to allow more time for the development of products that fit within the new standards while granting schools additional weekly menu planning options to help ensure that children receive a wholesome, nutritious meal every day of the week.”
To address a number of health concerns—from rising rates of childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes to the lack of quality food available to the nation’s underserved communities—school lunch programs have dramatically improved in recent years. First Lady Michelle Obama has been leading the march in increasing the amount of fresh, local produce and whole grains in school lunches, while also decreasing the amount of processed foods that can contain unhealthy amounts of sodium and refined grains and meats.
Chef Jamie Oliver was also successful in helping the Los Angeles Unified School District remove flavored milk products from its school systems—significantly reducing sugar intake for the students of the largest school district in the country.
The new ruling will essentially allow school lunch planners to use as much meat and grain products as they wish. With subsidized meat products widely available to schools (and controversial as in the pink slime issue earlier this year), this move could bring higher risk of foodborne illness back into the cafeteria.
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