Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Fact Sheet: Schools Serving, Kids Eating Healthier School Meals Thanks to Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act



For the past three years, kids have eaten healthier breakfasts, lunches and snacks at school thanks to the bipartisan Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which made the first meaningful improvements to the nutrition of foods and beverages served in cafeterias and sold in vending machines in 30 years. Thanks to the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act and other strategies, the national obesity trend is slowly reversing, and our children have more energy to learn and grow, greater opportunity to thrive, and better overall health.

As Congress turns its attention to reauthorizing the Act this year, it is important to remember that our children are battling a national obesity epidemic that costs $190.2 billion per year to treat and, according to retired U.S. generals, threatens our national security by making almost one in three young adults unfit to serve in our nation’s military. If we don’t continue to invest in our children’s health, this generation will be the first to live shorter lives than their parents.

The Act has undoubtedly improved the quality of school meals as well as the health and wellbeing of our children and for those reasons is supported by parents, teachers, doctors and kids themselves. USDA continues to work with schools, listen carefully, and provide time, flexibility, guidance, and resources to help them serve the healthier meals. Now is not the time to backpedal on a healthier future for our kids—that is why Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is encouraging Congress to act quickly to reauthorize a strong Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act and support the ongoing success of the healthier meals.

Kids are eating more healthy food and throwing less food away. Plate waste is not increasing. A study released in March 2015 by the University of Connecticut’s Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity shows that students are eating more nutritious foods and discarding less of their lunches under the healthier standards. Kids ate 13 percent more of their entrees and nearly 20 percent more of their vegetables in 2014 than in 2012, which means that less food is ending up in the trash today than before the national standards were updated.
Americans agree that healthier meals are the right thing for our kids. A poll released in mid-August by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation shows that 9 out of 10 Americans support national nutrition standards for school meals. Nearly 70% believe school meals are excellent or good, compared to just 26% in 2010, before the healthier school meals were implemented in schools.

Students like the taste of the healthier school meals. A 2015 study from the University of California, Berkeley’s School of Public Health found that nearly 90 percent of surveyed students liked at least some school meal options. And according to an August 2014 survey by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 70 percent of elementary school leaders nationwide reported that students liked the new lunches.
Kids are eating more fruits and vegetables as a result of updated standards. A May 2014 Harvard School of Public Health study shows that, under the updated standards, kids are now eating 16 percent more vegetables and 23 percent more fruit at lunch.

Parents support the healthier school meals. A September 2014 poll released by The Pew Charitable Trusts, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the American Heart Association shows that 72 percent of parents favor strong nutrition standards for school meals and 91 percent support serving fruits or vegetables with every meal.
Support for healthier school meals is bipartisan. A September 2014 poll released by The Pew Charitable Trusts, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the American Heart Association found that 87 percent of Democrats, 70 percent of independents and more than half of registered voters with kids in public schools surveyed were supportive of the new meals.

Over 95 percent of schools report that they are successfully meeting the updated nutrition standards. Students across the country are experiencing a healthier school environment with more nutritious options. The new meals are providing children more whole grains, fruits and vegetables, lean protein and low-fat dairy, as well as less sugar, fat, and sodium.
USDA continues to work with schools as they implement the new standards. USDA recently launched an initiative called Team Up for School Nutrition Success that allows the schools who still face challenges to pair up and learn best practices from schools that are already successfully serving healthier meals. The program has provided training for more than 3,500 individuals and has been enthusiastically received by schools and school officials.

School lunch revenue is up. Despite concerns raised about the impact of new standards on participation and costs, a USDA analysis suggests that last year, schools saw a net nationwide increase in revenue from school lunches of approximately $450 million. This includes the annual reimbursement rate adjustments, as well as increased revenue from paid meals and the additional 6 cents per meal for schools meeting the new meal standards.
Participation is increasing substantially in many areas of the country. Total breakfast participation increased by 380,000 students from FY2013 to FY2014 and has increased by more than 3 million students since 2008. USDA has also received reports from many schools indicating a positive response to healthier offerings and increased participation.

The Community Eligibility Provision under the HHFKA has been successfully implemented in over 14,000 schools. As a result, schools in low-income areas are now able to offer free, nutritious school meals to more than 6.8 million kids. Schools participating in CEP report increased revenue, decreased administrative costs, reduced program errors, and substantially higher program participation – on average, a 9 percent increase in school breakfast participation and 5 percent increase in school lunch.

As more kids and schools continue to successfully make the transition to the new standards, USDA expects participation to keep growing.
Virtually all schools continue to participate. Data from states indicated very few schools (only 0.51 percent of schools nationwide) reported dropping out of the programs due to struggles over providing kids healthy food. State agencies reported that the schools no longer participating in the NSLP were mainly residential child care institutions and smaller schools with very low percentages of children eligible for free and reduced price meals.
USDA has and will continue to listen to stakeholders and provide guidance and flexibilities, as appropriate, to help schools and students adapt to the updated requirements. Early in the implementation process for school meals, when schools asked for flexibility to serve larger servings of grains and proteins within the overall calorie caps, USDA responded. In January of 2014, that flexibility was made permanent. USDA is also phasing other requirements in over the next several years. And hearing schools concerns on the lack of availability of whole grain products, USDA is allowing schools that have demonstrated difficulty in obtaining adequate whole grain items to submit a request to the States to use some traditional products for an additional two years while industry works to create better whole grain products.

FDA Takes Action on Bulk Pure Powdered Caffeine Products



September 1, 2015

Agency continues to warn consumers about the dangers of using pure powdered caffeine.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is taking action today to help prevent additional deaths from the use of pure powdered caffeine, potentially dangerous products that have already resulted in the known deaths of two teenagers.

The agency issued warning letters to five distributors of pure powdered caffeine because these products are dangerous and present a significant or unreasonable risk of illness or injury to consumers. The difference between a safe amount and a toxic dose of caffeine in these pure powdered products is very small. Furthermore, safe quantities of these products can be nearly impossible to measure accurately with common kitchen measuring tools. Volume measures, such as teaspoons, are not precise enough to calculate how many milligrams of caffeine are in the serving size. Pre-existing conditions can intensify the effects of caffeine and make the product more dangerous for these individuals.

Following the deaths of two young men in good health in 2014, the FDA issued Consumer Advice alerting consumers to the dangers of pure powdered caffeine. One teaspoon of pure powdered caffeine is equivalent to the amount of caffeine in about 28 cups of regular coffee. While consumers of caffeinated products such as coffee, tea, and soda may be aware of caffeine’s less serious effects – such as nervousness and tremors – they may not be aware that these pure powdered caffeine products are much more potent and can cause serious health effects, including rapid or dangerously erratic heartbeat, seizures and death. Vomiting, diarrhea, stupor and disorientation are also symptoms of caffeine toxicity.

The FDA will continue to aggressively monitor the marketplace for pure powdered caffeine products and take action as appropriate. If violations exist, the FDA can pursue enforcement action, such as seizure of the product or an injunction to prevent the firm from continuing to manufacture or market the product.

Climatologist Says Current El Niño Could Mean More Favorable Weather for Midwest Crops Historical weather records indicate 2025 could be extremely harsh for Midwest crops.




MANHATTAN, Kan. – Much-needed precipitation through the U.S. heartland this year has replenished soil moisture, refilled ponds and promises to boost crop yields, thanks to the weather phenomenon known as El Niño, according to Iowa State University agricultural climatologist Elwynn Taylor. And the benefits for the Midwest may continue into 2016.

El Niño is associated with a warming of Pacific Ocean water, and tends to bring warmer, drier conditions to the northwest United States and cooler, wetter conditions to the Plains.

The conditions are a far cry from the recent La Niña – the opposite of El Niño, which brought drought to the central U.S., said Taylor, who spoke at the recent Kansas State University Risk and Profit Conference. “We’ve just come out of the second strongest La Niña in recorded history, about 200 years, and that brought us a disastrous drought. That’s the drought we had in the Corn Belt in 2012. That’s the first widespread drought that we’ve had in the Corn Belt since 1988.”

He likened the El Niño-La Niña phenomenon to a pendulum that swings from one extreme direction for a 14-month period and then to the extreme in the opposite direction.

“Because of the rainfall and mild temperatures in the central U.S., an El Niño gives a 70 percent chance of an above trend line yield for corn and soybeans in the Corn Belt, if other factors don’t come into play,” he said, adding that when corn yields are high in the Midwest, wheat yields in northwest states tend to be below average, because El Niño tends to bring drought to those states.

It’s unclear how long the current El Niño will last, but in similar situations where one has followed a strong La Niña, the El Niño has lasted a full two years rather than 14 months, which is average.

“If it goes 14 months, that it gets us well into 2016. It could get us off to a good start with the crop, but it could go bad after that,” Taylor said, noting that El Niño has sometimes gone on for 24 months – even 36 months, but that’s rare. “In ancient history, they’ve gone on for four or five years, but we don’t expect to see that this time around,” he said.

“With El Niño, we tend to have closer to average conditions than extremes. That is, the summer’s not oppressively hot, the winter’s not bitterly cold, and that is good news for people with cattle outside and people with winter wheat,” he said.

Taylor said scientists who study El Niño and La Niña have a good record for knowing four or five months in advance what conditions are coming: “That’s good news, but it doesn’t get you all the way through a growing season.”

That’s why people should pay attention, he said, adding, “We don’t get a sudden change from La Niña to El Niño. That’s a gradual one over months – a gentle change. But, when a strong El Niño ends, it can suddenly go to a La Niña condition, such as the major drought we had in 1988 that began just weeks after we went into La Niña.”

That’s why risk management is so important, he said, adding that after El Niño, growers have to be ready for yields and prices to change quickly.

In an Agriculture Today radio interview during the conference, Taylor said that once an El Niño ends, there is often talk of high-pressure ridges forming that block precipitation. The weather forecasts reporting those are typically focused on urban areas, especially in the New England states.

“We need to pay attention to what’s going on in the Gulf of Alaska. If we have a high pressure system in the Gulf of Alaska, we’ve just cut off the rain in a line from Kansas City to Chicago and everything north of that. That’s a good chunk of Nebraska and Kansas,” he said.

El Niño is the friend of the Midwest farmer, as well as the Argentine farmer, and those in southern Brazil and Uruguay and adjacent areas, he added. It is not the friend of the extreme northwest United States or the adjacent Canadian farmer, or farmers in northern Brazil.

“In fact some Brazilian farmers try to cover this by owning as many acres in northern Brazil as in southern Brazil,” Taylor said. While one is suffering from El Niño, the other is benefiting from El Niño. That’s a form of risk management, by having farms in two locations.”

“Also, if the Australian farmer has an enemy, it’s El Nino,” he added.

Taylor said that based on studies going back hundreds of years, the upcoming year 2025 bears watching: “2025 isn’t necessarily the year we expect a “Dust Bowl” to peak, but it would be typical. The harshest years for weather for Midwest crops tend to be separated by 89 years. The worst year for the 1800s in Illinois and Iowa was 1847. Records were not kept that far back for Kansas and Nebraska. In the next century, the harshest weather year for crops was 1936. Tree rings indicate the 89-year tendency has existed for several centuries.”

Taylor believes this means that weather will get increasingly volatile until we hit the extremes. “Remember, volatility goes both ways,” he said. “Years with record-high yields or yields with half of that, and that’s a disaster. During the 18 years before 2010, we had consistent yields.”

“This is an advantage the farmer has, to look at what is the year’s volatility, what are the likely prices I can sell my grain at or buy my feed at this year, and what the likely low will be and the likely high,” he continued. “You’re not going to hit it exactly. Just realize this is likely to be a year that will have above trend line yields, and so we’re going to have prices that go along with a higher yield. You don’t know exactly how low they’ll go, but as long as you’re working on the correct side of the picture, you’ll make a profit. It’s hard to go bankrupt when you’re making a profit.”

Taylor said weather conditions through the 2020s may be much like the volatile years during the 1980s.

Farmers will always deal with risk, but Taylor said U.S. farmers have good government support. “The federal government does not want farmers to take such a beating one year that they’re not in business the next, as happened back during the Dust Bowl of the ‘30s. That’s why we have crop insurance. That is for most people their No. 1 risk management tool.”

Consumers Union, Ben & Jerry’s & Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility Join Together to Support Vermont’s GMO Labeling Law



Food Industry Challenges Vermont Law In Court While it Pushes Congress to Block all GMO Labeling Requirements

New York, NY -- Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, joined Ben and Jerry’s and Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility in submitting an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) brief today to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in support of the Vermont GMO labeling law.

The Vermont law, scheduled to go into effect in July, 2016, requires the labeling of genetically engineered food sold in the state.  The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), which includes large national companies like Pepsi Cola and Coca Cola that have long opposed GMO labeling, is seeking an injunction to stop the Vermont law from going into effect.  The U.S. District Court previously rejected GMA’s request for an injunction, and now the trade association is appealing that decision.

But some companies support the law, as do a broad range of consumer and environmental groups including Consumers Union.

“Vermont’s law will help consumers make more informed decisions about the food they eat and can be implemented at little cost to manufacturers,” said Jean Halloran, Director of food policy initiatives at Consumers Union.  “The food industry should stop fighting the public’s right to know in court and start listening to what their customers want.”

Consumers Union and the other parties submitting the amicus brief argue that Vermont’s law serves a number of legitimate state interests, including advancing public health and safety, informing consumers concerned about potential environmental effects, avoiding consumer confusion, and protecting religious practices.  In addition, the brief notes that the labeling requirement does not impose significant – let alone irreparable – harm on the affected companies, as the GMA claims.

While opponents of the law claim it would raise food prices, Consumers Union and the other parties note in their brief that the costs for food companies to comply with the law would be negligible.  “It costs next to nothing to change the wording on a package,” said Halloran.  “Companies do it all the time and they have until January 2017 before Vermont starts enforcing its law.”  A report commissioned by Consumers Union and prepared by an economic consulting firm, EcoNorthwest, found that based on existing analyses, requiring GMO labels on products would cost individual consumers less than a penny a day.

“The easiest, cheapest way for companies to comply with the Vermont law would be simply to label all products nationally if they contain GMOs,” said Halloran.  “This is what consumers want.  A Consumer Reports poll in 2014 found that 92 percent of consumers support mandatory labeling of GMOs.”

In addition to challenging the Vermont law in court, GMA is supporting a bill in Congress that would nullify the measure and prohibit any other state law or the U.S. Food and Drug Administration from mandating GMO labeling.  Misleadingly named the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act, consumer groups are calling it the Deny Americans the Right to Know or DARK Act.  The bill passed the House in July but is expected to have a more difficult time in the Senate.

“Vermont’s ability to decide for itself what kind of food labels it wants for its citizens is fundamental,” said Halloran.  “We believe the courts will uphold that right, and strongly urge Congress not to interfere with states’ rights to label GMO foods.”