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Politicians Pushing for School Nutrition Waivers Got Funds From Food Industry

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The Sunlight Foundation took a peek at the campaign contributions of a subcommittee in the U.S. House of Representatives that has advocated for one-year waivers from nutrition rules for some schools. From the report on the agriculture appropriations subcommittee:

"Commercial food giants such as ConAgraGeneral Mills, and Schwann— along with other members of the School Nutrition Association (SNA)—have donated thousands of dollars to the campaign accounts of members of the Agriculture subcommittee, which holds jurisdiction over the USDA and the national Food and Nutrition Service. Overall, food processing industry employees and political action committees—not all members of the SNA—have given over $117,000 to members of the subcommittee in the 2014 cycle alone."

That includes more than $19,000 to Alabama Rep. Robert Aderholt, the Republican chair of the committee who has spoken in support of the waiver rider, the Sunlight Foundation reports.

To put things into perspective, Aderholt took in about $800,000 in contributions in the 2013-14 cycle. The foundation's Influence Explorer report for the School Nutrition Association details the contributions of the organization directly to members of congress with some interesting findings. For example, the SNA has contributed a total of $7,000 to Rep. Rosa DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat who opposes the waiver rider.

The rider, attached to the proposed House agriculture appropriations bill, would require the USDA to allow schools that have seen a net operating loss in their food service budgets over a six-month period to opt out of the heightened school meal nutrition standards in 2014-15. Supporters of the waiver plan, including the SNA, say it would give schools time to adjust to the new rules and to address concerns about food waste and declining participation in their meal programs.

Opponents of the plan argue that it's merely a way to delay implementation of the rules until they can be done away with entirely through reauthorization of the child nutrition act. Any concerns about implementation can be addressed through flexibility, which the USDA has already provided in some cases, they say.

The Senate has introduced its own proposal, which would delay sodium requirements and require a technical assistance plan. U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has said he is more comfortable with the Senate approach.


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