Bill seeks more fresh produce in school meals

Wed Dec 16, 2009 6:01pm EST
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By Charles Abbott

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The government would spend $150 million to put more fresh fruits and vegetables into school meals under a bill filed by 16 lawmakers on Wednesday with an eye to next year's overhaul of school food programs.

Congress delayed work on child nutrition until 2010, partly to round up more funding. The administration backs a $1 billion a year increase but there is no agreement on how to pay for it.

The bill would require the Agriculture Department, which oversees school meals, to remove barriers to the larger use of fresh fruits and vegetables in school feeding programs. It also obliges USDA to promote salad bars as a way to encourage consumption of fresh produce.

Some $20 million would be available to schools to purchase salad bars and $100 million to upgrade cafeteria equipment. There also would be $20 million in grants for a "farm to school" program for purchase of locally grown fresh produce.

"I strongly believe the initiatives included in this legislation are a perfect fit for the Child Nutrition Act," said lead sponsor Sam Farr, California Democrat.

President Barack Obama has a goal to end childhood hunger by 2015. Antihunger groups say child nutrition programs can play a major role in that. Nearly $17 billion was appropriated for school lunch and related programs this fiscal year.

A National Academy of Sciences report recommended on Oct 20 that schools increase the amount of fruits and vegetables served in meals. Some 31 million children get hot lunches and 11 million eat breakfast through the school meals program.

Meanwhile, USDA announced a three-year study whether "high tunnels," also called hoop houses, are a reliable way to extend the growing season and make fresh produce more widely available throughout the nation. Hoop houses are built of metal or plastic ribs covered by plastic sheeting.   Continued...

<p>Carrots are cleaned at Tawangmangu village in Karanganyar regency in Indonesia's Central Java province January 18, 2008. REUTERS/Beawiharta</p>