Lobbyists Win Food Fight In Congress

Shame on Congress. Those of us who still doubted it now have irrevocable proof: this country is a corporate tyranny that only postures as a republic. How else would elected officials obey food industry lobbyists at the expense of school children and public health? If you’re still unconvinced, ponder this: yesterday, the House and the Senate voted a joint House-Senate agriculture spending bill that classifies tomato paste on pizzas as a vegetable, eliminates limitations which keep potatoes and other starchy vegetables–read: French fries–to two servings per week, and weaken restrictions on sodium.

The bill stands in direct opposition to the new dietary recommendations set forth by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in June, which called for limiting potatoes (a.k.a. French fries), processed foods and sodium, and boosting whole grains and fresh vegetables. Optimists had it that the new food map would be the foundation upon which nutritional and dietary guideline for the federal school lunch program would be built–in the wake of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act signed into law last December.

Think again. Big Food lost no time getting to work to rescue its chestnuts from the fire, as the French saying goes. Its message on Capitol Hill rests on two questionable pillars: 1/ reforming school lunches necessarily requires a budget increase that no one can afford 2/ who does the government think it is that it can tell schools what to feed the kids?

For the record: 1/ Renegade Lunch Lady Ann Cooper, among others, has demonstrated that serving healthy food to school children on budget can be done 2/ Taxpayers foot the bill for the school lunch program that feeds more than 30 million children; they also pay for the burden of diet-related illnesses on public health, starting with diabetes; all of which gives them the right to demand that food served in schools be as healthy as possible.

At any rate, the frozen food industry made no bones claiming victory. The trade group American Frozen Food Institute immediately released a statement that “commends” appropriators for their “balanced approach to implementing new school meal standards.”

Even before the final vote in the House and in the Senate, Thursday, public health advocates had raised the red flag. Foreign celebrity chefs who’ve been campaigning ceaselessly to save this country from the diabetes epidemic that is threatening the new generation of kids with a shorter lifespan than their parents, are reeling. The military brass calls the bill a “national disgrace.” “This new effort to undermine school nutrition regulations raises national security concerns,” said Amy Dawson Taggart, director of the national security nonprofit Mission: Readiness, a non-profit national security organization led by over 250 retired generals, admirals, and other senior military leaders. Their concern is ensuring the perennity of the U.S. military, when one youth in four already is unfit for service because of obesity.

The USDA is going to have to change its final rules—due out by the end of the year—to comply with the new legislative language. Critics can only hope that these rules will be changed again when the bill expires at the end of next year.

I’m curious to see if First Lady Michelle Obama, America’s queen of healthy food and lifestyle, pipes up. She’s been a driving force behind both the new school lunch legislation, and the ex-new USDA dietary recommendations. This time around, Barack may end up on the couch for real.

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