Child nutrition programs have been the source of contention for the past two years with fights occurring over everything from whole grain-rich requirements and sodium restrictions to a fresh produce mandate. Yesterday, the Senate Agriculture Committee Nutrition and Forestry Committee put those fights to rest — at least for now — when it favorably reported the Child Nutrition Integrity and Access Act of 2016 out of committee. The bipartisan bill, which reauthorizes over $20 billion in child nutrition programs for five years, was lauded by both Pat Roberts, the chairman of the committee and Debbie Stabenow, the committee’s ranking member.
The biggest item in the bill for Western Growers’ members was the discussion of the mandate requiring school lunches to include a half-cup of fruits or vegetables as part of every meal. Opponents of the requirement argued the “half-cup” requirement should be eliminated. Western Growers has long advocated for the reauthorization of the mandate which was ultimately maintained in the bill.
In addition, the Senate created a hardship exemption to the fruit and vegetable program which will allow schools to be exempted from the mandate if they can show lack of access to fresh fruit and vegetables, lack of cold storage or lack of other equipment to prepare fresh product. The exemption CANNOT be granted based on financial hardship.
Though the exemption was included in the bill, it will be difficult to secure. If granted, the provision requires the school to remedy the hardship within four years so they can implement the program and comply with the mandate.
On the advancement of the bill and inclusion of the fresh produce requirement, President and CEO of Western Growers Tom Nassif said, “Western Growers is pleased that the committee kept the fruit and vegetable mandate in place. Requiring that schools provide healthy lunches for our children that include fresh produce is a victory for school children across the country. We support the bill and this provision and look forward to working with USDA on the regulations governing hardship exemptions as we believe providing children with fresh fruits and vegetables teaches healthy eating habits for consumers of the future. Western Growers would like to thank Chairman Roberts and Ranking Member Stabenow for their dedication and hard work on moving this bill forward for a floor vote. We hope that the Senate passes this measure and also hope the House will soon take up the reauthorization and maintain the fruit and vegetable mandate.“
For more information, contact Dennis Nuxoll at (202) 296-0191.