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Food producers push Congress to relax school healthy-lunch standards

November 15, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
Some members of Congress are fighting against school-lunch limits on salt, french fries and more. The Obama administration has been pushing for healthier school lunches. Now some food companies and members of Congress are pushing back.

"Two or three years ago we didn't serve hardly any salads in the district, now we're serving thousands and thousands every day," said David Binkle, deputy director of food service, Los Angeles Unified School District.

Binkle has been tweaking the LAUSD menu for years.

First lady Michelle Obama has been leading a crusade to fight childhood obesity by getting kids moving and eating better.

But a proposed congressional bill would undo some of the standards set in place by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA), standards like restricting sodium, limiting starchy veggies like french fries, adding whole grains and boosting produce for school lunches.

"Obviously I have a little one and I would hope that they would get as much nutritional value into any meal," said L.A. resident Stephanie Trott.

Parents like Trott are concerned about these proposed changes put in place by frozen-food manufacturers and potato growers that supply schools. They've lobbied Congress to halt efforts, claiming new standards are too strict and noting the government is overlooking the nutrients that potatoes and other starchy veggies offer.

Reminiscent of the Reagan administration calling ketchup a vegetable, there is a bigger food fight concerning tomato paste.

Currently the USDA calls 2 tablespoons of pizza sauce a vegetable. The USDA wants to increase that to a half-cup, roughly 4 tablespoon more and limit corn, peas and french fries to two servings a week.

"They do need to change a little but not take so much away from them," said Whittier resident Jessica Casillas.

Some argue the government shouldn't dictate what children eat, others say changes would be costly and burdensome.

Last month the U.S. Senate voted to block the potato restrictions while House Republicans urged the USDA to rewrite the standards.

One parent's message to Congress?

"Allow for the changes, hear from the parents and advocate for healthy lifestyles," said L.A. resident Heather Wingren.

The latest version of the bill blocks or delays all newly suggested changes.