July 29, 2014

USDA official pushes new school meal plan

A top official with the U.S. Department of Agriculture is touting new federal guidelines designed to make meals served in schools in Nebraska and nationwide more nutritious.

Kevin Concannon, undersecretary for food, nutrition and consumer sciences, says changes taking effect July 1st will increase federal dollars provided for the school meals program.

“We see this as a major opportunity, not only to help children have access to nutritious food every day, but it can also — in schools — take some of the pressure off the households and people who may be struggling in this economy,” Concannon says.

During a stop in Sioux City, Iowa, Concannon said the move to serve school children more fruits, vegetables and other low-fat foods followed recommendations from health and medical professionals and others.

“We had a national group of retired Army generals and admirals from the Navy and Coast Guard who lobbied congress on the basis of…we have such an obesity problem in the United States, it’s not just a health problem, it’s a national security problem,” Concannon says.

Government statistics show 36% of adults and 17% of children in the U.S. are obese.

A public outcry over a type of lunch meat served in schools sparked a recent policy change at the USDA. Concannon says schools will have a choice between using “lean, finely textured beef” — sometimes referred to as “pink slime” — or another less-lean ground beef.

“At the end of the day, that lean finely textured beef is safe, leaner than the average beef that comes through the beef supply and it is less costly,” Concannon said. “But, we recognize it is a choice and that’s something new we will have this coming school year.”

The so-called “pink slime” is made from leftover beef trimmings and treated to kill off bacteria. It has been in the U.S. food supply since the early 1990s, according to Concannon.

McDonald’s announced earlier this year it would discontinue use of the controversial meat product made by South Dakota-based Beef Products Incorporated.

BPI factories that produced the product in Iowa, Kansas and Texas have been closed in recent weeks. The only plant that remains open is in South Sioux City, Nebraska.