5:43 a.m. Just finished reading the sports page, headlined by KU's loss to Kentucky in basketball. Feeling good.

5:55 a.m. Jim Allen's "Gotta be heard"  column has really struck a chord. High readership and five comments so far....

 5:57 a.m. The House-Senate conference appropriations bill for agriculture has generated a ton of coverage of the"pizza and French fries" language in the legislation that would compel the USDA to count pizza as a vegetable and not to restrict servings of potatoes (or any vegetable) in the updated school nutrition guidelines. The "pizza as vegetable" squabble hearkens back to the Reagan Administration's "ketchup as vegetable" controversy in 1981, critics say.

Here is an Oct. 31 reference to the issue from the Congressional Record; with Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. speaking: 

Ms. KLOBUCHAR. Mr. President, I rise today to speak about the proposed rules issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, USDA,   regarding tomato product crediting. I believe we must provide our  children with healthy meals and ensure they have access to nutritious  foods not only for their own well-being, but for the well-being of our Nation.

Given that a significant number of children rely on school lunch  programs for meals every day, I am concerned that provisions in the rule regarding tomato paste crediting could have unintended consequences. Tomato paste contributes dietary fiber, potassium--a nutrient of concern for children--as well as Vitamins A and C. It is delivered to  kids in popular school menu items they enjoy eating and drives National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program participation.

The proposed rule changes a technical crediting issue, effectively mandating the use of three times as much tomato paste or other tomato product. For example, under the proposed rules, the crediting of tomato paste would be based on the volume served as opposed to ``single-strength reconstituted basis'' as outlined in the Food Buying Guide for Child Nutrition Programs. To achieve one vegetable serving, an estimated three times the current quarter cup volume of tomato product--like tomato paste, tomato sauce, or salsa--would be required.

This increased amount is unrealistic for many single foods and combination foods and would make the weekly vegetable serving requirement more difficult for schools to achieve. Under this rule, a plate of spaghetti with three times the normal amount of sauce becomes more of a soup than a pasta dish, and a slice of whole grain pizza with three times the amount of sauce could be equally excessive.

This becomes a problem for schools hoping to feed their students healthy meals that kids like. The Institute of School Meals report does not recommend a change in the way tomato products are calculated. This change does not bring a nutritional benefit, and it was not called for by schools, nutritionists, or the Institute of Medicine. Constituents in Minnesota have said that this would result in increased volumes of foods consumed, increased costs to schools, and the virtual elimination of many foods served in school lunch, because of altered formulas and proper ratios that no longer allows for proper preparation or consumption.

I am not suggesting that USDA stop action on the rule--but, I believe we must focus on increasing fruits and vegetables rather than decreasing specific foods that provide an important source of essential nutrients. And because of that, I suggest that USDA refrain from changing the current tomato paste crediting levels. We need to make sure that we promote nutritious meals and recognize that the quality of the meals our kids eat in school plays a major role in their health and well-being.

TK: The Senator sounds so reasonable. After all, didn't she say the USDA should increase fruits and vegetables and not focus on decreasing other specific foods? But that's the trick, isn't it? It is hard to increase fruits and vegetables without decreasing other foods.

Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy for the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Science in the Public Interest, told me it was unfortunate that USDA could not go ahead with a tougher standard for tomato paste that had proposed earlier this year.

“This is about companies continuing to promote and sell pizza as a vegetable,” she said. Under the proposed school meal regulations, the USDA would have required tomato paste be credited on its actual volume like as other vegetables are required.

“It’s not that pizza can’t be a healthy food, but it’s not a vegetable.”

Amen.

 

A reminder: Join the LinkedIn Fresh Produce Industry Discussion Group.Check out the stats from LinkedIn on the growth of the group.

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