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Senate begins work on child nutrition bill

Senate begins work on child nutrition bill
Supporters say more money for farm-to-school grants helps students, farmers.

The Senate Agriculture Committee begins markup of their draft of the Child Nutrition Act Jan. 20.

The bill contains increased support for summer feeding programs as well as for farm-to-school activities, including a $5 million per year increase in grant funding for the farm-to-school grant program.

“Farm-to-school programs are a great way to help introduce kids to healthier eating habits and teach them about where their food comes from,” said Erin McGuire, policy director at the National Farm to School Network.

SCHOOL LUNCHES: Senate begins work on bill that expands grant opportunities for farm-to-school programs.

A 2014 Harvard study shows that in some schools, under the updated child nutrition standards, kids are now eating 16 percent more vegetables and 23% more fruit at lunch. A 2015 study by the University of Connecticut's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity found that kids ate nearly 20% more of their vegetables in the schools they examined after the standards were updated.

The American Farm Bureau sent a letter to Agriculture Committee leaders voicing support for the goals of the Child Nutrition Act.

"Lifelong healthy eating habits begin with children having healthy choices - and school food programs are pivotal in shaping those healthy dietary habits," Farm Bureau's letter read.

The letter stated that AFBF is pleased that the proposed legislation includes provisions to boost milk and dairy product consumption through the National School Lunch Program.

"The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends three dairy servings per day and offering milk with each school meal helps to meet that goal," the letter read.

Agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack praised the Senate for making bipartisan progress to reauthorize the Child Nutrition Act.

“It maintains our commitment to science-based nutrition standards for school meals and protects the advancements we have made in children's health since the passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act,” Vilsack said in a media statement. “Rather than diminish the progress made since the changes were implemented in 2012, the Senate's bill ensures progress will continue improving our children's diets, and it promises to end partisan battles about the future of our kids.”

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition said expanding the farm-to-school grant program is a necessary step. In the first three years of the program, only 20% of the applicants received funding.

“Thanks to the committee's decision to double available funding for grant awards, we could see farm-to-school programming expand to reach an additional 3 million students nationwide. This will dramatically expand opportunities for students, schools, and local farmers,” said Alyssa Charney, NSAC policy specialist, in a media statement

In addition to the funding increase, the Senate’s draft bill includes additional recommendations from the Farm to School Act including: creating greater program accessibility, adding flexibility for location of farm to school sites (including pre-schools and summer/after-school programs), and increasing marketing opportunities for beginning, socially disadvantaged, tribal, and veteran farmers.

“The more we bring local, healthy food into our schools, the greater the positive ripple effect,” said Sunny Young Baker, Mississippi farm-to-school co-state lead. “Increased farm-to-school funding helps schools serve healthier foods, gets families cooking together, helps farmers grow their businesses, and is a great investment in the health of our small town communities.”

Lawmakers in both houses have limited time to pass a joint Child Nutrition Act reauthorization; if a bill cannot be agreed upon in the current legislative cycle funding levels for farm to school and other child nutrition programs will remain stagnant.

Source: USDA, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, National Farm to School Network, American Farm Bureau Federation

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