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Foreign Policy Analysis
How Trump’s USDA wants to change rules around school nutrition

How Trump’s USDA wants to change rules around school nutrition

JUDY WOODRUFF: When Michelle Obama was first
lady, one of her key initiatives was to push for healthier nutrition and food choices.
That translated into a change for public school lunches around the country. But the Trump administration and some state
officials argue that the Obama administration went too far, and this administration has
been rolling back some of those moves. As Amna Nawaz tells us, today, the U.S. Department
of Agriculture proposed additional changes. AMNA NAWAZ: That’s right, Judy. The Trump administration already changed the
Obama standards for whole grains, sodium and nonfat milk. Today, it approached new rules
that would role back the amount of fruits and vegetables required at school breakfasts
and lunches. These programs feed nearly 30 million students
around the country. Some advocates are worried about these changes. Crystal FitzSimons is among them. She’s the
director of school and out of school programs at the Food Research and Action Center, an
advocacy group that targets hunger and undernutrition. Welcome back to the “NewsHour.” CRYSTAL FITZSIMONS, Food and Research Action
Center: Thank you for having me on today. AMNA NAWAZ: So, the justification from the
administration is, look, the Obama era rules led to low participation from schools and
a lot more food waste. The agriculture secretary, Sonny Perdue, actually
said, this is commonsense flexibility that these programs need to continue to provide
nutritious school lunches and breakfasts. What do you say to that? CRYSTAL FITZSIMONS: Well, I would say that
that’s not right. I think that we need to be providing the most
healthy meals possible. The changes that were made under the Obama administration really
did a lot to help improve the nutrition quality of the meals that are being served. And we
know that more than 30 million kids are relying on school lunch each day for healthy lunches. And we should be providing the healthiest
lunches possible. AMNA NAWAZ: But was there, as a result of
those regulations, low participation and an increase in food waste? Do we know that? CRYSTAL FITZSIMONS: No, we know that there
is participation, that participation has been remaining pretty strong. And we know that there are lots of things
that contribute to kids not eating their lunches. Kids really do need to have enough time in
order to eat their lunches. And too many schools actually do not provide enough time during
the lunch hour. And we know that there’s millions of kids
who live in households that struggle against hunger. And we know that we have a huge obesity
epidemic. And we really need to be working hard to make sure that we’re providing fruits
and vegetables, healthy food, whole grains, low sodium, all those good things that are
going to allow kids to get the nutrition they need to learn and be healthy. AMNA NAWAZ: Help me put sort of a finer point
on it here to understand what this looks like. So, previously, a standard breakfast, say,
under the previous rules, they had to provide one cup of fruit. What would be different
now under the new rules? CRYSTAL FITZSIMONS: So now they would be required
to provide just half-a-cup. AMNA NAWAZ: Just half-a-cup. CRYSTAL FITZSIMONS: And so there would be
less fruit on the tray. And that flexibility — we want kids to be
eating fruit. We want the schools to be offering healthy fruit. We want them to be introducing
fruit to kids and different kinds of fruit. And we want schools to be working hard to
make sure that they’re providing appealing meals. AMNA NAWAZ: A lot of the headlines are talking
about burgers and french fries as well. Under the previous rules, schools had to provide
at lunchtime at least a sort of variety of vegetables. What’s new? What would be different? CRYSTAL FITZSIMONS: Right. So there’s more flexibility in providing vegetables.
So we would expect to see more french fries on the school lunch tray. AMNA NAWAZ: And so here’s the question, because,
obviously, you’re assuming that they will take the lower nutritional value option, if
given the option here. I want to put to you, though, the statement
from the School Nutrition Association, right? This is the organization of cafeteria workers,
all the businesses that provide the food to those schools. They welcomed these changes. And they said, look, the upgraded nutrition
standards for school meals have been a tremendous success overall. But then they cited the same
things the administration did, saying that there has been reduced participation and higher
costs. You’re assuming that they will provide less
healthy options, but might they uphold the same nutritional standards even if they’re
not required to? CRYSTAL FITZSIMONS: So there are plenty of
schools across the country that are not going to roll back the standards. There are a lot
of school nutrition departments and a lot of school districts that are really committed
to providing healthy meals. But we want to make sure that kids in Oregon
have as healthy meals as kids in Illinois, and kids in Alabama need to have as healthy
meals as kids in California. We really — it’s a national program. We need
national standards, and we need to make sure that kids are getting healthy food. AMNA NAWAZ: When you look at the student population,
you know who participates and who relies on a lot of these programs. Who are you worried is going to be most affected
by these potential changes and how? CRYSTAL FITZSIMONS: Right. So, the vast majority of kids who participate
in the school lunch program are low-income and do receive either free or reduced-price
school lunches. And we know that those meals are actually often the meals that they’re
going to be relying on and their only meals. So we want to make sure they’re healthy. And
we need to make sure that they have access to them. And schools can do a lot to reduce
— can reduce plate waste by making sure that they do have enough time to eat. So there are strategies. Schools are doing
salad bars. Schools are doing farm to school. There’s really wonderful, creative ways that
schools across the country are making sure that kids want to eat their fruits and vegetables.
And we want to make sure that’s happening in every school. And we do not want to see these rollbacks
to the school nutrition standards. AMNA NAWAZ: Just a few seconds left. I should mention this is a proposed new rule,
right? CRYSTAL FITZSIMONS: It is, yes. AMNA NAWAZ: It goes into an open comment period
in the coming days. Do you see this as a done deal? Do you think
there’s any way that these rules don’t go through? CRYSTAL FITZSIMONS: Well, I think it’s not
a done deal if everybody responds and submits comments. So there’s a huge opportunity here to weigh
in on this, to let people know that we don’t want to see these standards rolled back. And
people should really take that step and take the time to let the administration know that
they want healthy meals in their school breakfast and school lunch programs. AMNA NAWAZ: This is such an important topic. Crystal FitzSimons of the Food Research and
Action Center, thanks for being with us again. CRYSTAL FITZSIMONS: Thank you for having me.

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