In a Federal Register notice today, the USDA announced it will extend its “three flexibilities” for school menus — salt, whole grains, and flavored milk — into the 2018/19 school year. It will also invite comment on the “long-term availability of the flexibilities,” which Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue introduced at an elementary school on his sixth day in office.
School districts serving Philadelphia, Baltimore and Las Vegas joined the Urban School Food Alliance, which now serves 3.6 million students in 10 of the largest U.S. districts with a combined $735 million a year in purchases of food and supplies. The alliance launched a procurement initiative in 2014 for antibiotic-free chicken, and said this year that its members would not relax school lunch standards despite a USDA offer of flexibility on salt and whole grains.
A year ago, Washington D.C.’s Capital Area Food Bank — one of the largest food banks in the country — decided to turn away junk food, joining a growing trend of food banks who are trying to offer healthier options to low-income Americans. From soda to chips, the CAFB has reduced the junk food it supplies to its 444 nonprofit partners, including soup kitchens and food pantries, by 84 percent.
When the 2017/18 school year opens in late summer, public schools will not have to use more whole grains and less salt in their cafeteria meals unless they want to, and they will be allowed to sell 1 percent flavored milk, said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. Although he said he was giving schools more flexibility, consumer groups and lawmakers said Perdue was rolling back school-lunch reforms launched under an Obama-era initiative against child obesity.
A long-running study "reports that lowering sodium intake doesn't reduce blood pressure," says the San Diego Tribune. The results are contrary to long-accepted medical advice and suggest that most Americans consume healthy amounts of salt, the most common form of sodium.
A state appeals court upheld New York City's requirement for chain restaurants to alert diners to foods that contain more than the recommended daily dose of salt, about one teaspoonful, said The Associated Press. The National Restaurant Association said it was considering its next move on the regulation.
President-elect Donald Trump attacked over-regulation by the government during his campaign, so "big questions have arisen over how far he'll go," said Civil Eats, which spoke to food-policy activists about the outlook. With Republicans in control of Congress, the budgets of the EPA and the FDA could come under attack, but it would be very difficult to eliminate an agency like EPA, said food-safety advocates.
The FDA called on foodmakers and restaurateurs to reduce sharply the amount of salt in their products to help Americans avoid high blood pressure and the risk of chronic illness. The food industry balked, saying it already has low-salt products on sale and that the science on healthy salt levels was not as clear as the government says.
The House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees USDA and FDA is writing its own guarantee of a gradual transition to calorie counts on menus a restaurants, carry-outs, stores and fast-food stands. It included a rider, Section 735, in its USDA-FDA funding bill saying enforcement cannot occur until a year after Dec. 1, 2016, or a year after the FDA issues the final rule on menu labels.