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First lady defends school meal nutrition rules

School lunch programs are coming under the scrutiny of Congress, and the House is expected to vote on a bill this week that deals with the issue. (Associated Press)
School lunch programs are coming under the scrutiny of Congress, and the House is expected to vote on a bill this week that deals with the issue. (Associated Press)

WASHINGTON – First lady Michelle Obama is striking back at House Republicans who are trying to weaken healthier school meal standards, saying any effort to roll back the guidelines is “unacceptable.”

The rules set by Congress and the administration over the last several years require more fruits, vegetables and whole grains in the lunch line and set limits on sodium, sugar and fat. The first lady met Tuesday with school nutrition officials who said the guidelines are working in their schools.

The event was an unusual move for the first lady, who has largely stayed away from policy fights since she lobbied for congressional passage of a nutrition law in 2010.

“The last thing we can afford to do right now is play politics with our kids’ health,” Michelle Obama told participants.

An agriculture spending bill approved by a House subcommittee last week would allow schools to waive the standards if they have a net loss on school food programs for a six-month period. Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., who wrote the bill, said he was responding to requests from school food directors who have said the rules are too restrictive. The School Nutrition Association, which represents school nutrition directors and companies that sell food to schools, has lobbied for changes to the standards and endorsed the House bill.

The House Appropriations Committee is expected to approve the spending bill this week.

At the White House event, school nutrition directors from New York City to Los Angeles to a rural county in Georgia told the first lady success stories about the standards and said they would be disappointed to see any rollbacks.

The Agriculture Department, which administers the rules, has tweaked them along the way to try to help schools that have concerns.

The national PTA is pushing lawmakers to keep the standards intact.



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