School meal nutrition regulations are tardy, and industry leaders say it is uncertain exactly when the U.S. Department of Agriculture will issue the final rule and what it will say.
“They originally expected to have it on the street by now, and now I’ve heard everything from another two weeks to the end of March,” John Keeling, executive vice president and chief executive officer for the Washington, D.C.-based National Potato Council, said Jan. 17.
The USDA’s proposed regulation to update nutrition standards for school meals was issued in January 2011. The proposal sought to double fruit servings for breakfast to one cup. The daily lunch requirement under the proposal grew from one-half cup of fruits and vegetables to three-fourths to one cup of vegetables and one-half to one cup of fruit. The January rule singled out “dark green and orange vegetables” for increases in school meals, but put limits on starchy vegetables.
In the 2012 agricultural appropriations bill, however, lawmakers told the USDA not to publish a final rule that sets maximum limits on the servings of any vegetable in the school meal program. In addition, Congress turned back USDA’s attempt to change a policy that allowed tomato paste on a slice of pizza to count as a serving of vegetables.
“Obviously Congress’ action at the end of last year addressed several of the more contentious issues, but there is still a lot of room to make some changes,” said Diane Pratt-Heavner, spokeswoman for the National Harbor, Md.-based School Nutrition Association. “We’re waiting with everyone else to see what the final rule will look like,”
She said the proposed rule called for a significant increase in the amount of fruits and vegetables offered to students and she predicted that will continue to be the case when the final rule is published.
The USDA’s school nutrition regulation is at the White House Office of Management and Budget under review, said Lorelei DiSogra, vice president of nutrition for the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association.
DiSogra said it appears the rule may not be released until mid-February, which would be at the end of the 90-day period OMB has to review regulation.
DiSogra said nutrition advocates are urging the USDA to keep the implementation date for the updated school nutrition guideline at July 1.
Pratt-Heavner said the School Nutrition Association has asked the USDA to delay implementation of breakfast rules until more funding is available.