By Pete Kasperowicz - 10/19/12 03:04 PM ET
House Republicans say new U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) guidelines aimed at forcing students to eat fruits and vegetables are a failure because students across the country are simply tossing the healthy fare into the trash.
"[T]here remains great concern with the amount of food waste generated at school cafeterias, much of it brought on by requiring students to take fruits and vegetables rather than simply offer them," Reps. John Kline (R-Minn.), Kristi Noem (R-S.D.) and Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) told USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack in a letter sent Thursday.
"This is a waste of federal, state and local funds and is contrary to the law's goal of feeding as many low-income and hungry children as possible," they said. "Once again, we are aware USDA has attempted to address this situation by allowing greater choice in reimbursable meals, but students should not have to take additional food if they have no intention of eating it."
Republicans have been criticizing USDA school lunch guidelines for the last few months, in particular USDA rules that set maximum-calorie guidelines for all meals subsidized by taxpayers. Last month, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) introduced the No Hungry Kids Act, which would repeal these calorie restrictions.
The three GOP members hit on that issue again in their letter this week.
Specifically, they wrote that while a committee in the Institute of Medicine found that the 850-calorie maximum for high schoolers is "appropriate for the level of physical activity of most children," there have been reports of athletes "going hungry a few hours after lunch" because of this limit.
"While we appreciate that USDA has attempted to provide leeway to school officials wishing to calculate the calorie maximum as an average over the week, these minor adjustments are poor substitutes to the major changes needed to meet the diverse needs of students," they wrote.
USDA has defended the guidelines by saying they only apply to taxpayer-subsidized meals, and said schools can still sell items like cheeseburgers.
Kline, Noem and Roe told Vilsack that USDA has failed to address how states will pay for the $3.2 billion cost of complying with the rules.
The three members asked Vilsack to answer a series of questions about its guidelines, including what assistance USDA is providing to help schools comply with the rule, whether USDA will try to evaluate the rule as it is implemented and whether financial assistance will be offered to schools trying to comply with it.