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The USDA points out they changed rules earlier this year to allow schools to serve larger portions of lean protein and whole grains after hearing complaints that some kids — particularly athletes — were hungry.
Kline said it is unfair to link campaign contributions from General Mills to his side in the current debate.
Early on in 2011 comments to the USDA, General Mills weighed in against certain portion size restrictions and asked for a delay in mandatory implementation. The company’s Political Action Committee and employees have donated about $75,000 since 1997 to Kline, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
The chairman cowrote a letter in February to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, asking that the secretary grant waivers to school districts that wanted more flexibility. Vilsack declined, saying he lacked the legal authority.
Kline, who said schools are “looking for relief now,” said he is eager to see how House appropriators handle the new rules. Otherwise, he said he will work on it during the reauthorization next year, including granting the agriculture secretary the authority needed to give school districts more latitude to implement the standards the way they see fit.
“I think everybody wants to make sure that our disadvantaged kids have access to nutritious meals, but that doesn’t mean we have to have rigid mandates,” he said.
“I think we need to have a little more confidence and trust in the states and districts.”
Brenda Braulick is Minnesota’s branch president of the School Nutrition Association. She also works for the Sartell-St. Stephen School District and says she sees food waste every day from kids who don’t want a fruit or vegetable, yet are forced to take one. She also says the costs to her district have spiked — the USDA reimburses districts an extra 6 cents for fruits and vegetables that actually cost about 25 to 30 cents per student. In Braulick’s district, uneaten food goes to a nearby hog farm.
“We can easily see what the students are throwing away,” she said.
“What we’re seeing is a lot of whole fruit, whole apples, whole bananas, not even with a bite taken out. To force a kid to take it doesn’t do any good if we’re feeding the pigs well.”
Bertrand Weber from Minneapolis public schools agrees with Braulick on the increased costs and would love more cash from the federal government.
But he says he doesn’t see food waste because cafeteria workers chop up apples and oranges into wedges for the little kids, which makes the fruit more appealing.
“We are not seeing an increase in food waste whatsoever,” said Weber, director of culinary and nutrition services. “They like it.”
Allison Sherry • 202-383-6120