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NCL comments to USDA regarding interim school lunch rules

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July 26, 2012

 

Julie Brewer, Chief
Policy and Program Development Branch
Child Nutrition Division
Food and Nutrition Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture

RE: Docket ID FNS-2011-0025

Sincerely,

Dear Ms. Brewer:

The National Consumers League (NCL), founded in 1899, is the nation’s oldest consumer advocacy group. Since its inception, NCL has worked tirelessly to protect and promote the rights of workers and consumers. NCL is pleased to have this opportunity to comment on the interim rule “Certification for Compliance with Meal Requirements for the National School Lunch Program Under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010” (7 CFR Part 210). NCL is pleased that the agency has taken such a strong stand to support the implementation of new and improved standards for school meals and strongly supports the interim rule.

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 (HHFKA) was enacted on December 13, 2010, as an update to the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act (NSLA). This crucial update means that for the first time in nearly 30 years the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will have the ability to modernize the nutritional standards of meals served in schools. A Congressional report on the law stated that:

“The purpose of this bill is to address those needs in order that fewer low-income children have to go without food, and to ensure that more children from all income levels adopt the kind of healthful eating habits and lifestyles that will enable them to live longer, more productive lives.[1]

The new standards would increase the amount of fruits, vegetables and whole grains served at lunch and breakfast. Additionally, they would set maximum calorie counts for the first time; historically school meals have only had calorie minimums. Phased-in sodium limits also will lower the amount of salt allowed in school meals. Given that one-third of American children are overweight or obese, these common-sense standards, which will improve the breakfasts and lunches of millions of children each day, are long overdue, especially considering that 32 million children eat lunch and 12 million eat breakfast at school each day.[2] Section 201 of the HHFKA amends the NSLA to provide an additional six cents of reimbursement for school food authorities (SFA) that comply with the new rules.

As part of the HHFKA, two new paragraphs were added to the NLSA. 4(b)(3)(D) states that “to be eligible to receive an additional reimbursement described in this paragraph, a school food authority shall be certified by the State to be in compliance with the interim or final regulations.” 4(b)(3)(E) says that any SFA not in compliance with the new rules by October 1, 2012 “shall not receive the additional reimbursement for each lunch served.”

NCL supports the agency’s decision to bolster schools in their transition to new meal standards by providing a six cent increase in the funding schools receive for each lunch served. NCL commends the agency for “strik[ing] the appropriate implementation balance to achieve both the goal of expanding participation and of raising nutritional standards of the school meals served to America’s children.[3]

We commend USDA on its dedication to help America’s children eat more healthfully and especially on the following aspects of the interim rule:

  • The establishment of a clear and transparent process for establishing whether or not a school is eligible for the 6 cent increase in reimbursement rates; and
  • The provision of guidance materials, training and technical assistance to school professionals that are both clear and timely.

Furthermore, we recommend that the agency take the following steps to ensure that the implementation of the certification process is fair and balanced.

  • All food service staff, especially those in smaller, rural or low-income schools, should receive adequate training as well as support as they carry out changes;
  • Schools that are likely to fail certification should be identified early on so that intensive interventions can assure their compliance before deadlines; and
  • Certification reports should be easily available to the public through an online portal so that parents, public health professionals and other advocates can access and assess them.

In conclusion, NCL supports the interim rule for performance-based certification. We urge the agency to ensure that this rule is implemented in a timely and even-handed fashion in all states. Ensuring that schools receive an additional six cents per meal in reimbursement will benefit children as it will allow schools to serve healthier meals. We appreciate this opportunity to comment.

Sincerely,

Sally Greenberg
Executive Director
National Consumers League


[1] Senate Report 111-178, page 5.

[2] http://blogs.usda.gov/2012/07/16/healthierus-schools-challenge-reaches-major-milestone/

[3] “Certification of Compliance With Meal Requirements for the National School Lunch Program Under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.” Federal Register, Vol. 77, No. 82. April 27, 2012, 25026.

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