When 6 Cents Really Pays Off: Evaluating The New Child Nutrition Act

Any C-SPAN junkies out there? We know, it’s often a little too much, even for us food policy nerds. But last week was huge, so we wanted to make sure you heard of the biggest change to food safety in 70 years and the biggest change for child nutrition in 30: The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act and the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act (now dubbed the “Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act” and also called CNR). We wanted to know if these changes were seen as positive steps by our local groups working on the same issues.

Wellness in the Schools, for instance, conducts hands-on nutrition programs in NYC schools, including through a collaboration with Chef Bill Telepan (whose efforts we mentioned in his profile during Eat Drink Local Week). Would they feel an impact from a 6-cent increase to school lunches, or the $5 million allotted for national Farm to School programs?

Nancy Easton, WITS founder and president, recently attended a meet-up with City Harvest to answer this question for herself. (City Harvest ran the big NYC Alliance for CNR — you can thank them for rallying more than 85 organizations to send incessant letters to Congress over the years.) She wasn’t impressed by the money, perhaps, but she was by the meaning behind it.

“Basically, my reaction is that the 6 cents is really nothing,” says Easton. “We went from $2.74 to $2.80 — big deal, especially after tax and all that. The big impact of that will not be felt at all.” The original proposal, by the way, was for a 70-cent increase. The added 6 cents is not exactly going to account for grass-fed meat in 5th graders’ burgers, notes Easton. “That’s just not going to happen.”

“But,” she adds, “I think the money is not really the issue; it’s more about the awareness around this issue. And the timing is really important.” The bill must be reauthorized every five years, notes Easton, so back in 2004 when it was in the works “there was no real broad understanding of school food, or anything really, and there was no real level of engagement. So I think the way we’re really going to feel the impact is in the level of activism and community involvement.”

She also mentions that the United States Secretary of Agriculture will be now able to do higher-level planning with things like implementing better nutrition beyond the lunch line and into the vending machines, and there’s also now the mandatory funding for Farm to Schools: $5 million a year, which she predicts may simply be used to fund studies “so in the next five years, we’ll have something to talk about.” In the meantime, even if you don’t watch C-SPAN, if you have kids, you should consider reading up on City Harvest’s NYC Alliance for CNR.

As for food safety: The Senate made big strides by passing the bill last week, which would grant the FDA power to issue mandatory recalls without tip-offs from food producers. But after a minor snafu, it got sent ping-ponging right back. We’ll give you our industry impression when the dust settles; hopefully, in time for Christmas.

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