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USDA Announces More 'Flexibility' For Next Year's School Meals

7:01 AM, May 21, 2014 • By JERYL BIER
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Just a day after House Republicans introduced legislation to roll back some Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulations on school meal programs, the USDA announced some flexibility would be granted to some schools for the coming school year when implementing the new policies:

"Schools raised legitimate concerns that acceptable whole-grain rich pasta products were not available. We worked to find a solution which will allow more time for industry to develop products that will work for schools," said [Agriculture Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services Kevin] Concannon.

The two-year flexibility for schools who have "experienced significant challenges in preparing and serving whole grain-rich pasta products" must be approved by the schools' state agency.  Earlier, "flexibility" had been granted in some cases for portion sizes and for timetables for phasing in new requirements.

The Republican legislation would go further than these USDA delays by allowing schools that experience financial loses over a six-month period to apply for waivers from the program. The USDA seemed to be indirectly responding to this proposal by noting that "USDA analysis suggests that nationwide schools saw a net revenue increase in the first year of implementing the updated standards."

Michelle Obama, who has championed the new regulations as part of her Let's Move campaign, spoke out against the Republican proposal in a Monday conference call.  The USDA also seemed to take a shot at the GOP legislation:

[W]ith one third of American children fighting obesity, we cannot accept politically motivated efforts to undermine standards and deny kids healthier options.

Mrs. Obama has made fighting childhood obesity one of the top priorities of her Let's Move campaign, even occasionally appearing to overstate the impact the program has had during its first four years.  The USDA is a partner of the Let's Move program along with the White House and several other government agencies.

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