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Have Companies Gone Too Far When Pizza is A Vegetable?

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Below is an article from the Associated Press on developments yesterday about Congress ready to cave in to large corporations once again and to classify pizza as a vegetable in order for it to be included in school lunch programs. This comes after the Senate last month blocked potato limits so french fries can still be included.

What are your thoughts on companies using influence to be able to keep allowing children to eat unhealthy, especially when childhood obesity is at an all time high in our country?

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By Associated Press
Last updated at 6:25 AM on 16th November 2011

Pizza is set to be classified as a vegetable for the purposes of school lunches – because it contains tomato paste. A congressional committee is pushing for the move and to keep french fries on school lunch lines in a fightback against an Obama administration proposal to make school lunches healthier.

The final version of a spending bill released late Monday would unravel school lunch standards the Agriculture Department proposed earlier this year which limits the use of potatoes and delays limits on sodium and a requirement to boost whole grains. The bill also would allow tomato paste on pizzas to be counted as a vegetable.

Guideline reversal: A spending bill released late Monday reverses previous school lunch standards proposed by the Agriculture Department limiting the use of potatoes and allowing tomato paste on pizzas to be counted as a vegetable

Food companies that produce frozen pizzas for schools, the salt industry and potato growers requested the changes, and some conservatives in Congress say the federal government shouldn’t be telling children what to eat. School districts had said some of the USDA requirements went too far and cost too much when budgets are extremely tight. Schools have long taken broad instructions from the government on what they can serve in federally subsidized meals that are served free or at reduced price to low-income children. But some schools have balked at government attempts to tell them exactly what foods they can’t serve.

Reacting to that criticism, House Republicans had urged USDA to completely rewrite the standards in their version of the bill passed in June. The Senate last month voted to block the potato limits in their version.

Neither version included the language on tomato paste, sodium or whole grains, which was added by House-Senate negotiators on the bill.

The school lunch proposal was based on 2009 recommendations by the Institute of Medicine, the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said they were needed to reduce childhood obesity and future health care costs.

Nutrition advocate Margo Wootan of the Center for Science in the Public Interest said Congress’s proposed changes will keep schools from serving a wider array of vegetables. Children already get enough pizza and potatoes, she says.

It would also slow efforts to make pizzas — a longtime standby on school lunch lines — healthier, with whole grain crusts and lower levels of sodium. ‘They are making sure that two of the biggest problems in the school lunch program, pizza and french fries, are untouched,’ she said.

A group of retired generals advocating for healthier school lunches also criticized the spending bill. The group, called Mission: Readiness has called poor nutrition in school lunches a national security issue because obesity is the leading medical disqualifier for military service. ‘We are outraged that Congress is seriously considering language that would effectively categorize pizza as a vegetable in the school lunch program,’ Amy Dawson Taggart, the director of the group, said in a letter to members of Congress before the final plan was released.

Specifically, the provisions would:
• Block the Agriculture Department from limiting starchy vegetables, including corn and peas, to two servings a week. The rule was intended to cut down on french fries, which some schools serve daily.

• Allow USDA to count two tablespoons of tomato paste as a vegetable, as it does now. The department had attempted to require that only a half-cup of tomato paste could be considered a vegetable — too much to put on a pizza. Federally subsidized lunches must have a certain number of vegetables to be served.

• Require USDA to define ‘whole grains’ before they regulate them. The rules would require schools to use more whole grains.
Food companies who have fought the USDA standards say they were too strict and neglected the nutrients that potatoes, other starchy vegetables and tomato paste do offer.

‘This agreement ensures that nutrient-rich vegetables such as potatoes, corn and peas will remain part of a balanced, healthy diet in federally funded school meals and recognizes the significant amounts of potassium, fiber and vitamins A and C provided by tomato paste, ensuring that students may continue to enjoy healthy meals such as pizza and pasta,’ said Kraig Naasz, president of the American Frozen Food Institute. The school lunch provisions are part of a final House-Senate compromise on a $182 billion measure would fund the day-to-day operations of the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Justice, Transportation and Housing and Urban Development.

Both the House and the Senate are expected to vote on the bill this week and send it to President Barack Obama.

1 Comment

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  1. Gerry McGill says:
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    I think it was during the Reagan administration that ketchup was classified as a vegetable for school lunch purposes.