Senate moves to keep school-lunch taters safe from regulators

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Denise Austin and Napoleon Dynamite can breathe a sigh of relief this morning: The U.S. Senate has taken action to save their favorite food from the Obama administration’s health initiatives.

On Tuesday night the Senate unanimously approved an amendment to the 2012 agriculture appropriations bill preventing the U.S. Department of Agriculture from severely limiting the consumption of potatoes and other starchy vegetables in federally funded school lunch and breakfast programs.

The bipartisan amendment, co-sponsored by Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins and Colorado Democratic Sen. Senator Mark Udall, would stop a rule the USDA proposed earlier this year. The USDA plan would have reduced servings of white potatoes, green peas, lima beans and corn to one-cup per week in the National School Lunch Program, and eliminate them entirely in the National School Breakfast Program.

Udall said in a Senate floor speech Monday that the restrictions would cause undue hardship for foodservice operations and increase the cost of feeding children in public schools.

“I have heard from school lunch providers in Colorado,” Sen Udall said, “that this restriction will result in significant challenges for food service operations through increased costs, reduced flexibility and decreased school meal participation. This is especially concerning for them as school districts face increasingly tight budgets.”

Sen. Collins cheered the amendment’s addition to the agriculture appropriations bill. “This means USDA cannot proceed with a rule that would impose unnecessary and expensive new requirements affecting the servings of healthy vegetables, such as white potatoes, green peas, corn, and lima beans,” she said in a statement.

Collins added that the amendment blocking USDA’s proposed menu-limiting rule will increase flexibility for localities and keep costs down.

“The USDA estimates that this rule could have cost as much as $6.8 billion over five years,” Sen. Collins said. “The lion’s share of these costs would be incurred by the state and local agencies.  The proposed rule would have also limited the flexibility that schools need to serve nutritious, affordable meals to their students.”

Ultimately, the appropriations bill will need to be reconciled with the House’s version — which does not contain the Collins/Udall amendment.

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