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Healthy, and Safe, School Lunches

April 7, 2010

NYTimes’ editorial about Child Nutrition Act reauthorization.

It is probably too much to hope that the more than 30 million school lunches served every day will taste absolutely fabulous. But Congress should at least make certain that whatever lands on those cafeteria trays is nutritious and safe to eat. Every day it delays doing so is another mealtime when millions of students are cheated of programs that could help relieve hunger and reduce obesity.

A reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act is now before the Senate. The bill’s main sponsors, Blanche Lincoln, an Arkansas Democrat, and Saxby Chambliss, a Georgia Republican, have written useful revisions and improvements. The measure deserves prompt approval. It is also time for the House to produce its own version. If Congress can act by late spring, next year’s school cafeteria crowd can be more confident that the food is healthier and safer to eat.

The Senate bill reauthorizes several antihunger programs for children, but its biggest impact would be felt in schools that offer free or cut-rate meals. The bill would give the Agriculture Department new powers to set nutritional standards for any food sold on school grounds, particularly junk foods that contribute to obesity. It would expand the use of local farm products, organic food and school gardens, and require the government to notify schools more quickly about tainted foods. It also provides the first real increase in funding in 40 years.

The bill can and should be improved when it reaches the floor. President Obama — no doubt nudged by Michelle Obama, who has personally campaigned for better nutrition — asked for an additional $10 billion over the next 10 years for child nutrition. The Senate version provides only $4.5 billion extra. The Senate should also ban all trans fats, a cause championed by Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat from New York.

The driving force behind the House bill is Representative George Miller, a California Democrat, who is expected to ask for stronger food safety regulations. He also seeks more money for fighting childhood hunger and obesity, especially in the schools.

In many ways, this is yet another side of the health care issue because better childhood nutrition is preventive medicine at its best. The new federal powers proposed in these bills would improve what millions of young Americans eat every day — and improve their chances of a healthy life.

View the article here.

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