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School lunch debate continues in NY-21
October 23, 2012 - Chris Morris
The debate over new federal guidelines that limit caloric intake for kids who purchase meals at school continues in the race for New York's new 21st Congressional District.
I reported on this earlier this month, and the story hasn't gone away. Last week, Republican, Conservative and Independence party candidate Matt Doheny, a businessman from Watertown, went on the attack again, accusing U.S. Rep. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, of denying "that he voted to allow the creation of strict nutrition standards that are resulting in students rejecting school lunch or going hungry."
"My opponent either doesn't understand the bill he voted for – or he's purposely misleading voters on his role in this fiasco," Doheny said in a press release.
Doheny goes on to state that Owens told YNN-TV that he voted to "re-authorize a bill that provided funding for school lunches." Owens made similar remarks during an editorial board meeting with the Enterprise last week.
Doheny insists that Owens is misleading voters. Doheny said the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 provided the secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture with a new power - to create "nutrition standards for all foods in school."
"The secretary then instituted calorie caps that have wreaked havoc on school lunches," Doheny's press release said. "The old minimum calorie requirement is now the new maximum calorie requirement, leaving many students feeling unsatisfied or rejecting school lunch all together."
Doheny has visited schools in the district and spoken with school officials. He claims school lunch purchases are down by 10 to 20 percent, something that hurts school district revenues.
"I'm also very concerned about the children who receive free or reduced lunch because of their economic circumstances," Doheny said. "They can't 'brown bag' their lunch if they're dissatisfied with the meal they're being offered. These children – especially those active in sports or other physical activity – tell me they are simply not getting enough to keep them energized throughout the day."
"My opponent was wrong to have voted for this bill," Doheny added. "This is a perfect example of unnecessary overreach by the federal government. It's strict requirements have forced schools to serve food that students are not eating, which becomes truly wasteful. This 'Washington knows best' mentality has taken away decision-making power from those best qualified: families, school districts and states. These federal standards don’t need to be adjusted. They need to be repealed."
Owens said he's spoken to parents and school officials who are concerned about the new calorie requirements. He wrote USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack on Monday, urging him to review the rules on caloric intake.
"Although we share the goal of providing healthier meals, I believe we need to take care not to create a situation that is in fact more detrimental," Owens wrote. "Unfortunately, it has become clear that many students are simply refusing to purchase meals at school and are bringing food from home, which may or may not be a more healthy choice and is reducing school lunch revenue."
Owens noted in a press release that the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act had support from a "diverse group of leaders," including high-profile Republican officials like former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn.
"The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 also increases reimbursements for school meal programs, helps schools create and expand breakfast programs, and streamlines the process for children to qualify for subsidized or free school lunches in an effort to address the twin issues of childhood hunger and obesity," Owens explained in a press release.
In a letter published in the Enterprise last week, Karen Derusha of Healthy Schools NY wrote that the new guidelines aim to combat obesity.
"With 31 million children participating in the National School Lunch Program, and one out of every three children in America overweight or obese, it was time for a change," Derusha wrote. "As a result, the nutrition standards for school meals have been updated for the first time in 15 years."
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