The government that money buys: School lunch cave in by Congress

16 Nov

There is the saying that “we have the best government that money could buy. We don’t. We have the government that money interests will allow. Moi recently discussed the political wrangling about school lunches in the post, School lunches: The political hot potato The World Hunger Education Service describes why nutritious school food is so important in the article, Hunger in America: 2011 United States Hunger and Poverty Facts:


Fifty-five percent of  food-insecure households participated in one or more of the three largest Federal food and nutrition assistance programs ( USDA 2008, p. iv.) The programs are the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the new name for the food stamp program (Wikipedia 2010), the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) (Wikipedia 2010), and the National School Lunch Program (Wikipedia 2010).

SNAP/Food stamps  The Food Stamp Program, the nation’s most important anti-hunger program, helps roughly 40 million low-income Americans to afford a nutritionally adequate diet. More than 75 percent of all food stamp participants are in families with children; nearly one-third of participants are elderly people or people with disabilities.  Unlike most means-tested benefit programs, which are restricted to particular categories of low-income individuals, the Food Stamp Program is broadly available to almost all households with low incomes. Under federal rules, to qualify for food stamps, a household must meet three criteria (some states have raised these limits)….

National School Lunch Program The National School Lunch Program is a federally assisted meal program that provides nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free lunches to children from low income families, reaching 30.5 million children in 2008.  Children from families with incomes at or below 130 percent of the poverty level are eligible for free meals. Those with incomes between 130 percent and 185 percent of the poverty level are eligible for reduced-price meals, for which students can be charged no more than 40 cents. (For the period July 1, 2009, through June 30, 2010, 130 percent of the poverty level is $28,665 for a family of four; 185 percent is $40,793.) Children from families with incomes over 185 percent of poverty pay a full price, though their meals are still subsidized to some extent by the program. Program cost was $9.3 billion in 2008. (USDASchool Lunch Program)

Ron Nixon reports on the weasels in Congress who backed down on new rules which would provide more nutritious meals for school children. Many of these children rely on school breakfasts and/or lunches as their primary source of nutrition for the day. In the New York Times article, Congress Blocks New Rules on School Lunches, Nixon reports:

A slice of pizza still counts as a vegetable.

In a victory for the makers of frozen pizzas, tomato paste and French fries, Congress on Monday blocked rules proposed by the Agriculture Department that would have overhauled the nation’s school lunch program.

The proposed changes — the first in 15 years to the $11 billion school lunch program — were meant to reduce childhood obesity by adding more fruits and green vegetables to lunch menus, Agriculture Department officials said. 

The rules, proposed last January, would have cut the amount of potatoes served and would have changed the way schools received credit for serving vegetables by continuing to count tomato paste on a slice of pizza only if more than a quarter-cup of it was used. The rules would have also halved the amount of sodium in school meals over the next 10 years.

But late Monday, lawmakers drafting a House and Senate compromise for the agriculture spending bill blocked the department from using money to carry out any of the proposed rules.

In a statement, the Agriculture Department expressed its disappointment with the decision.

While it is unfortunate that some in Congress chose to bow to special interests, U.S.D.A. remains committed to practical, science-based standards for school meals that improve the health of our children,” the department said in the statement.

Food companies including ConAgra, Coca-Cola, Del Monte Foods and makers of frozen pizza like Schwan argued that the proposed rules would raise the cost of meals and require food that many children would throw away.

The companies called the Congressional response reasonable, adding that the Agriculture Department went too far in trying to improve nutrition in school lunches.

Unfortunately, the lobbyists won this battle against the interests of children.

For an incisive analysis of the school lunch lobby read  The School Lunch Lobby  by Ron Haskins  which was published in Education Next:

Consistent with the intent of the original school-lunch program, created by Congress in 1946 to provide “nutritious agricultural commodities” to children, the major purpose of today’s school-lunch program is to ensure that children, especially those from poor and low-income families, have nutritious food at school. The school-breakfast program started as a pilot in 1966 and was made permanent in 1975. How these programs, and the money that travels with them, have grown steadily over the years is a story that illustrates many of the underlying mechanisms of social policy creation in the nation’s capital. But can this aging machinery adapt to the demands of a fast-food culture? We created school lunch to feed the hungry. Can we now ask it to fight obesity?

A Special-Interest Stew

Since the strength and longevity of these programs come from an ample and well-balanced diet of public compassion, political sensitivities, and powerful lobbying, change does not come easily. There are occasional food fights between those who have stakes in the programs, but the rules are well established. The interests of the schools–primarily teachers, administrators, school nutritionists, and food-service workers–are represented by groups like the School Nutrition Association and the National School Boards Association, both headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia, a stone’s throw across the Potomac River from Capitol Hill. With well-funded and sophisticated national organizations, these groups lobby for more federal money while fighting to keep federal mandates to a minimum.

The giant food and beverage industry–names like Tyson and Archer Daniels Midland–is also involved. Its various lobbying arms, including food processors, distributors, service management companies, soft drink makers, and agricultural giants, work to ensure that the government buys food products from its members and keeps schools open to vending machines and à la carte offerings in the school cafeteria, a little oasis of choice that represents millions of extra dollars of revenue each year. Food advocacy and nutrition groups like the Food Research Action Center and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities represent the interests of children who consume the food offered by schools. They are the nutrition watchdogs, providing reliable and timely information about any food issue that comes before Congress…

Congress caved in to the money lobbyists. Too bad the kids can’t match them dollar for dollar. We don’t have the best government money can buy. We have the government that money has bought.


Keeping our children healthy, hunger-free By Dr. Joe Thompson

Hunger in America: 2011 United States Hunger and Poverty Fact,World Hunger Education Service

Congress Pushes Back On Healthier School Lunches, Fights To Keep Pizza And Fries by           Mary Clare Jalonick                                                                               

Dr. Wilda says this about that ©

2 Responses to “The government that money buys: School lunch cave in by Congress”


  1. Do kids get enough time to eat lunch? « drwilda - August 28, 2012

    […] The government that money buys: School lunch cave in by Congress                                                  … […]

  2. House politics attempt to intervene in school lunch program | drwilda - May 21, 2013

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