Michelle Obama challenges Republicans over child nutrition law

CNN
Thursday, June 19, 2014 - 9:41am

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- First lady Michelle Obama is continuing to question Republicans who want to roll back some of the key provisions of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, telling a group of medical journalists on Wednesday "We're not even thinking about the possibility of rolling back because we just can't afford for that to happen."

The first lady said school nutrition has improved for the first time in 30 years and that 90% of schools are currently in compliance..

"You reach 90% success or completion -- would you ever think well, let's just stop now and start all over again because we've got 10% left to do?" she asked. "That's where we are right now and that's just unacceptable."

"These standards are critical to the ultimate success of a generation of young people."

The House Appropriations Committee announced last month plans to let cash-strapped schools opt-out of the nutrition regulations via waiver. The change would come through the 2015 agriculture spending bill.

Signed into law in 2010, the nutrition bill established new requirements for the country's free or reduced-price lunch program. More than 30 million children qualify for the federally subsidized meals.

New standards included a reduction in sodium and a requirement that each student choose one fruit or vegetable in order to get the meal for free.

The law increased the reimbursement rate for school lunches as a way to help offset the higher cost of including more produce products.

According to the USDA the updated standards have already produced a number of positive results -- kids are eating 23% more fruits and 16% more vegetables at lunch, food waste has not increased and school lunch revenue is up.

Sam Kass, the executive director of the Let's Move! initiative and senior policy advisor on nutrition, told reporters he's concerned about the consequences.

"The stakes couldn't be higher both in terms of the impact this can have on our children, the precedent that it's setting for putting politics ahead of our science and our experts on this and what we see happening from that is deeply concerning," he said.

Kass also said they have extended the time for schools to sign up for the breakfast program. The new deadline is August 31.

Last month on CNN's Newsroom, Julia Bauscher, president-elect of the School Nutrition Association, said while they are not advocating a return to junk food, they want looser requirements on vegetables and fruits.

"We just don't want them to have to take it if they don't intend to consume it."

-- CNN's Ashley Killough contributed to this report

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