Food Fight Headed for Senate: School Lunches Up for Review March 4
Doctors Want Healthier Menus, More Vegetarian Choices, Fewer Political Favors for Meat and Dairy Lobbies
WASHINGTON—The Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry will hold a public hearing at 10:00 am, March 4 in the Hart Senate Office Building, Room 216, to review the national school lunch and breakfast programs. In light of the current childhood obesity epidemic, both programs—which are up for reauthorization this year—are facing significant criticism by a broad range of parents and health advocates concerned about the unhealthfulness of the food served. PCRM, which recently launched a national campaign dubbing school lunches “Weapons of Mass Destruction,” is calling on the Senate committee to make four major changes to federal policy:
1. Ensure that all schools serve at least one hot vegetarian meal daily and have hot vegan meals available to children who request them.
2. Require that all schools offer low-fat vegetables and fresh or dried fruits at every meal.
3. Require that all schools offer calcium-rich, nondairy beverages such as calcium-fortified juice, soymilk, or rice milk daily as a milk alternate, regardless of whether a student proves lactose intolerance or shows another medical, religious, or dietary need.
4. Restructure the commodities program to stop using school lunch purchases to promote beef, cheese, pork, and other high-fat, high-cholesterol foods and, instead, to favor fruits and vegetables.
Federal policy—heavily influenced by the meat and dairy lobbies—literally forces the Sec. of Agriculture to favor beef, pork, and other high-protein foods over healthier items when purchasing surplus commodities for federal feeding programs. As a result, in 2001, the USDA spent $350 million on surplus beef and cheese—more than double the amount spent on fruits and vegetables. Federal policy also prohibits schools from serving soymilk or other nondairy beverages as part of a subsidized lunch unless a child brings a doctor’s note saying he or she has a medical reason not to drink cow’s milk. (PCRM believes this policy is discriminatory because so many African, Hispanic, Native and Asian Americans are lactose intolerant.)
“It’s time USDA officials put children’s health before the profit motives of their friends in the meat and dairy industries,” says PCRM nutrition director Amy Lanou, Ph.D. “Purchasing hundreds of millions of pounds of cheeseburgers, chicken nuggets, and hot dogs a year may boost industry’s bottom line, but it’s doing nothing for children’s health.” Recent news articles have exposed that a number of top USDA officials are former meat and dairy lobbyists or employees. Last week, the agency named Eric Henteges, previously with the National Pork Board, the National Pork Producers Council and the National Livestock and Meat Board, to be its new director of nutrition policy and promotion.
Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit health organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in research.