Or course it is
House protects pizza as a vegetable
(Reuters) - The House of Representatives dealt a blow to childhood obesity warriors on Thursday by passing a bill that abandons proposals that threatened to end the reign of pizza and French fries on federally funded school lunch menus.
The scuttled changes, which would have stripped pizza's status as a vegetable and limited how often French fries could be served, stemmed from a 2010 child nutrition law calling on schools to improve the nutritional quality of lunches served to almost 32 million U.S. school children.
The action is a win for the makers of frozen French fries and pizza and comes just weeks after the deep-pocketed food, beverage and restaurant industries successfully weakened government proposals for voluntary food marketing guidelines to children.
"It's an important victory," said Corey Henry, spokesman for the American Frozen Food Institute (AFFI). That trade association lobbied Congress on behalf of frozen pizza sellers like ConAgra Foods Inc and Schwan Food Co and French
fry makers McCain Foods Ltd and J.R. Simplot Co, the latter best known as a supplier to fast-food company McDonald's Corp.
"Our concern is that the standards would force companies in many respects to change their products in a way that would make them unpalatable to students," Henry said.
Other AFFI members include H.J. Heinz Co, General Mills Inc and Kraft Foods Inc.
The school lunch provisions were a small part of a mammoth bill that provides money for all parts of the federal government. The House sent the bill to the Senate for final Congressional approval.
"They started out with French fries and now they have moved on to pizza," said Jared Polis, Colorado Democrat, who lamented the government's subsidy of unhealthy diets through school meals. "Pizza alone (without side dishes) ... common sense, it's not a vegetable."
Pizza is set to be classified as a vegetable for the purposes of school lunches - because it contains tomato paste, to the detriment of our children, but in favour of food corporations !!!!!
A congressional committee is pushing for the move and to keep french fries on school lunch lines in a fightback against an Obama administration proposal to make school lunches healthier.
The final version of a spending bill released late Monday would unravel school lunch standards the Agriculture Department proposed earlier this year which limits the use of potatoes and delays limits on sodium and a requirement to boost whole grains.
The bill also would allow tomato paste on pizzas to be counted as a vegetable.
Food companies that produce frozen pizzas for schools, the salt industry and potato growers requested the changes, and some conservatives in Congress say the federal government shouldn't be telling children what to eat.
Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee said the changes would 'prevent overly burdensome and costly regulations and to provide greater flexibility for local school districts to improve the nutritional quality of meals.'
School districts had said some of the USDA requirements went too far and cost too much when budgets are extremely tight.
Schools have long taken broad instructions from the government on what they can serve in federally subsidized meals that are served free or at reduced price to low-income children.
But some schools have balked at government attempts to tell them exactly what foods they can't serve.
File photo shows French fries
Fighting for fries: The Senate voted last month to block limiting potato in their version of healthy school lunches
Reacting to that criticism, House Republicans had urged USDA to completely rewrite the standards in their version of the bill passed in June.
The Senate last month voted to block the potato limits in their version.
Neither version included the language on tomato paste, sodium or whole grains, which was added by House-Senate negotiators on the bill.
The school lunch proposal was based on 2009 recommendations by the Institute of Medicine, the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said they were needed to reduce childhood obesity and future health care costs.
Nutrition advocate Margo Wootan of the Center for Science in the Public Interest said Congress's proposed changes will keep schools from serving a wider array of vegetables.
Children already get enough pizza and potatoes, she says.
It would also slow efforts to make pizzas — a longtime standby on school lunch lines — healthier, with whole grain crusts and lower levels of sodium.
'They are making sure that two of the biggest problems in the school lunch program, pizza and french fries, are untouched,' she said.
A group of retired generals advocating for healthier school lunches also criticized the spending bill.
The group, called Mission: Readiness has called poor nutrition in school lunches a national security issue because obesity is the leading medical disqualifier for military service.
'We are outraged that Congress is seriously considering language that would effectively categorize pizza as a vegetable in the school lunch program,' Amy Dawson Taggart, the director of the group, said in a letter to members of Congress before the final plan was released.
'It doesn't take an advanced degree in nutrition to call this a national disgrace.'
Specifically, the provisions would:
• Block the Agriculture Department from limiting starchy vegetables, including corn and peas, to two servings a week. The rule was intended to cut down on french fries, which some schools serve daily.
• Allow USDA to count two tablespoons of tomato paste as a vegetable, as it does now. The department had attempted to require that only a half-cup of tomato paste could be considered a vegetable — too much to put on a pizza. Federally subsidized lunches must have a certain number of vegetables to be served.