Matt Doheny says Washington bureaucrats need to stay out of school cafeterias.
The Watertown businessman and Republican challenger to U.S. Rep. Bill Owens, D-Plattsburgh, ate lunch with students at General Brown High School in Brownville on Thursday. He told the Enterprise that new federal guidelines for school lunches, implemented by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as part of 2010's Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, aren't working.
"The legislation as now implemented is having kids bringing brown bags to school," Doheny said. "Kids are throwing away a lot of the food. There's very little choice. I saw it with my own two eyes today; I actually had the food myself. That is a bill that my opponent voted for, and the results are leading to not only hungry children, but also a reduction in food being distributed at schools."
(Enterprise file photos)
The new regulations require schools to serve fruits and vegetables each day of the school week. It also mandates that schools provide more whole grains and reduce saturated and trans fats, as well as sodium. Students in kindergarten through fifth grade are limited to 550 to 650 calories per day, grades 6 to 8 are limited to 600 to 700 calories daily, and high school students are limited to 750 to 850.
The federal government also requires schools to serve a certain amount of grains, meats, fruits and vegetables daily.
Doheny criticized Owens for "expressing ignorance" about the new guidelines during a recent meeting with school officials in Potsdam. Doheny said in a press release that Owens may have voted to reauthorize the legislation without doing "his homework.
"But don't expect Bill Owens to take responsibility for his bad vote," Doheny said in the release. "He never does."
"When I responded that I would look into it, it was because the first time that we heard about this issue was actually when I went to the middle school in Potsdam," Owens told the Enterprise.
Owens said USDA established calorie levels for school lunches, and he's heard complaints that those levels are inadequate for active middle and high school kids.
"I think that we need to go to the (USDA) and ask them to re-look at this and evaluate whether or not it's really accomplishing the goal that they want it to accomplish," Owens said. "Obviously you want them to choose healthy meals, but what's happening now is the kids, according to the school districts, are simply bringing their lunches, and bringing lunches that are less healthy.
"What we should be spending money on, in my view, is educating people about the benefits of eating healthy, and obviously that goes not only to the kids but the parents as well."
Doheny pointed out that Owens still voted for the bill.
"It's another example of my opponent not standing up for his votes and trying to blame somebody else for things he voted on," Doheny said.
Doheny said Congress should let schools and parents decide what's best for students and keep Washington out of it.
"I can guarantee that the children as well the administrators I met with, they have a much better idea and have the flexibility to adapt the menus adhering to nutritional guidelines," Doheny said.
Owens seemed to agree. He said he wants to listen to school officials, although he still thinks Congress should still be involved.
"I think that the general purpose of this legislation was to try and make sure that children had an adequate meal in school so that they were comfortable in the learning environment," he said. "Does it sound like maybe this stepped over the line? It does. But that doesn't mean it can't be pulled back."
Green Party candidate Don Hassig said Congress must take an active role in determining what school children eat. Through his advocacy group, Cancer Action NY, he has for many years tried to convince people in the North Country that much of the food they eat is dangerous, since he claims animal fats and other things cause cancer.
"Legislating the creation of science-based meals is a good strategy for improving nutrition and minimizing exposure to chemical contaminants of food," Hassig wrote in an email. "Consumption of food is a major pathway for exposure to chemicals. In order to minimize exposure to toxic chemicals, a reasonable effort needs to be made to minimize consumption of contaminated foods. Congress has the power to create laws that determine what quantities and types of food will be provided in school lunch programs."
Hassig said schools feed children meats like hamburger and hot dogs because they're cheap.
"These are not good foods for children to consume," he said. "If children are to consume meats, they should be given lean grass-fed beef and 99 percent fat free chicken and turkey. Fish should be consumed no more than once a month. When schools provide lunches that include hamburgers and hotdogs, children learn to consume these processed, high-fat foods. Hamburgers and hotdogs should not be on the school lunch menu."
Contact Chris Morris at 518-891-2600 ext. 25 or firstname.lastname@example.org.