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Vilsack: No Waivers to Schools

   The International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) reported last week that Congress had passed a provision directing the U.S. Department of Agriculture to develop a waiver process that would allow schools to delay implementing the new School Breakfast Program and Smart Snacks standards. Two days later, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said that by law he cannot grant waivers to any schools.

   Speaking before the House Agriculture Appropriations Committee, Vilsack said USDA’s general counsel determined that the National School Lunch Act prohibits USDA from “granting a waiver that relates to the nutritional content or program meals served or the sale of competitive foods.”

   Some school districts and the School Nutrition Association had requested the waivers to allow more time for schools to adjust their procurement strategies to meet the new requirements. The new school meal regulations were put in place during the 2012/13 school year; however, the new rules on competitive foods go into effect for the first time for the 2013/14 school year. 

   In letters to the chair and ranking member of the committee, Vilsack said USDA will continue to listen to stakeholders and provide guidance and flexibilities, as appropriate, to help schools and students adapt to the new requirements. “As our track record on school meals demonstrates, USDA will pay careful attention to issues that come up during the Smart Snacks implementation and work with stakeholders to resolve them,” the letter said.

   IDFA recently wrote to Vilsack asking for delayed implementation of the snack food rule. For more information, contact Ruth Saunders, IDFA vice president of policy and legislative affairs, at rsaunders@idfa.org or Michelle Matto, IDFA’s nutrition and labeling consultant, at amfoodnutrition@gmail.com.