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Huelskamp, King, USDA continue to spar over school meals

Reps. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., and Steve King, R-Iowa, are continuing their campaign against new school meal rules that encourage healthier eating and set calorie limits, but USDA officials, nutrition advocates and military officials concerned about obesity are fighting back. (See following story)

Huelskamp and King, who have introduced a bill to repeal the school meal rules written to implement the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, this week said that USDA should impose the same calorie restrictions on its employees.

In an attempt to address childhood obesity, the school meal rules specify calorie limits on meals for children at different ages, including 850 calories for high school students.

“If the USDA demands that 100,000 school districts change their menus and justifies this mandate because schools receive federal money for lunches, then taxpayers should demand that the USDA cafeteria meet the same standards, as USDA operates in taxpayer-funded buildings,” Huelskamp said in a news release on Tuesday.

“Let’s see if they eat enough to function. Let’s see if they like having choices taken away from them.”

King, who is running for-re-election against former Iowa First Lady Christie Vilsack, the wife of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, said in a news release that he supports Huelskamp’s challenge to USDA.

“I too, ask that the USDA have its cafeteria meet the same standards as the 100,000 school districts that they have demanded change their menus and see how just how far 850 calories can take them,” King said.

A spokesman for Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack declined to comment on the idea of imposing school lunch calorie rules on adults, but the USDA cafeteria already shows the calorie counts on most foods so that employees can make informed decisions about what they eat. Noting that she saw calorie counts on all foods except pizza and desserts, a USDA employee told The Hagstrom Report that she was “proud” to work for an agency that lives up to its own standards.

In a news release, Huelskamp endorsed a new video parody of the school meal rules produced by students in Rolla, Kan.

“There is absolutely no role whatsoever for the Obama administration to dictate exactly what goes on the plates of more than 31 million students every single day,” he said.

But in reality, USDA has long told schools what they had to serve in order to get federal reimbursement, because farm groups and food companies have lobbied to make sure their products were used in the school meals programs.

On the issue of calorie counts, a USDA memo obtained by The Hagstrom Report said that under the old standards, most schools were already serving lunches that were under the new calorie limits. The memo said the average lunch served in high school had about 730 calories compared to the new requirement that lunch for high school students contain 750 to 850 calories.

Huelskamp has said he was motivated by a blog posted Monday by Agriculture Deputy Undersecretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services Janey Norton defending the new rules and urging parents and children to discuss the meals and even try to

A spokesman for the USDA Food and Nutrition Service noted that the USDA has not banned any food item from schools.

“The new school lunch guidelines only apply to taxpayer-subsidized meals,” the spokesman said. “Schools may still sell and students may still purchase servings of any type of food in addition to the subsidized meals, but it’s just common sense that the meal paid for with hard-earned tax dollars be a healthy, balanced meal.”