Senate, House versions of Farm Bill, child nutrition regulations headed to negotiations

Congressional negotiations to reauthorize the federal Farm Bill may include language giving local school boards some say in child nutrition regulations, which have been controversial in the past.

“Farm Bills” are enacted roughly every five years to update the nation’s federal farm programs and nutrition programs such as the National School Lunch Program, National School Breakfast Program, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps). The U.S. House’s farm bill, passed in July, has a child nutrition standards amendment but the U.S. Senate bill, also passed in July, does not. Differences between the two bills will be ironed out by conference committee negotiations that will pick up steam this Fall.

Current school nutrition standards were attacked almost as soon as they were finalized in the 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA). Students, parents, school boards and food service professionals said many guidelines for calorie counts, portion sizes, whole grain requirements, acceptable varieties of milk and sodium, sugar and fat counts were too stringent and didn’t reflect local needs or practices. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the nutrition programs authorized in the Farm Bill, waived some of the strictest requirements regarding sodium, whole grains and milkfat and milk flavors until 2021, but some school districts continue to report concerns about operational costs and a la carte menu restrictions imposed by the HHFKA.

H.R. 2 as amended and passed by the House requires the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture to review the rules that establish nutrition standards for school lunches, breakfasts and all food sold in schools with the goal of giving districts more flexibility. The amendment requires the Secretary to consult school leaders – specifically school boards – when developing the new regulations. The National School Boards Association supports the amendment, stating it gives school districts important local input and could influence a likely overhaul of child nutrition programs in the next Congress.

U.S. Senator Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee, which has oversight of that body’s Farm Bill negotiations. Roberts’ staff indicated to KASB that the Senate prefers its version of the Farm Bill (which does not include the House child nutrition amendment) at this time.

School leaders who have concerns about the child nutrition guidelines should contact Roberts. Further, NSBA has requested local examples of how the regulations have negatively impacted school districts. Examples may be sent to WRiggs@nsba.org; please copy Leah Fliter at lfliter@kasb.org so KASB is also aware of those issues.

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