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.
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.
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.
In the face of a proposal to curtail a program allowing free school meals for all children in high-poverty areas, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told lawmakers, "It would be unwise to roll back standards, saddle parents and school administrators with more paperwork or weaken assistance to our most vulnerable children."
Congress would relax rules that call for schools to use more whole grains and to reduce salt in meals provided to students, according to provisions of a government-wide funding bill. Unveiled on Tuesday night, the bill also calls for USDA to study the nutritional content of vegetables available in the so-called WIC program before removing any of them from the program - a response to complaints that white potatoes were being singled out unfairly.
The government-wide funding bill being assembled in private on Capitol Hill would scale back school lunch reforms approved in 2010 and "curtail some clean-water regulations," says the New York Times.