Of all animal proteins bought from 2014 by means of 2019 for the Nationwide Faculty Lunch Program by Ag, because the division is commonly referred to as, seafood made up lower than 2 p.c, in keeping with a GAO report. That equals 3.4 ounces of seafood a yr for every pupil in this system, the equal of about three fish sticks or a can of tuna.
This pales compared with the 43 hen drumsticks, 21 beef patties, 12 slices of ham, and 4 eggs produced from the 14 kilos of these commodities USDA buys yearly for every pupil within the lunch program. Designed to assist low-income households, it serves about 23 million college students or 41 p.c of school-aged youngsters.
GAO, a congressional watchdog that examines authorities packages and businesses, needs the division to assist faculties put extra seafood on college students’ lunch plates.
That’s excellent news to Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), who together with Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), requested the GAO report. Seafood “is a superb supply of vitamin for kids,” Reed stated in a phone interview.
Good vitamin is essential — making a living is just too.
Fishing is a vital a part of seaside economies in Rhode Island, Oregon and elsewhere. Extra seafood at school lunches “just isn’t solely wholesome,” Reed added, but additionally will “assist the native economies, significantly fishing economies, all through the nation.”
A December 2020 letter to GAO requesting the report from the 2 ocean-state senators centered on the financial significance, saying “the seafood trade is vital.” They cited a “want for expanded reduction for the trade” due to the coronavirus pandemic. “This market evaporated, and the availability chain for fishermen and seafood processors was decimated,” they wrote. “USDA has an essential function to play in supporting the seafood trade, together with fishermen and processors.”
GAO did the examine Reed and Merkley requested, nevertheless it shifted the main focus to vitamin. Noting federal dietary pointers, GAO stated, “Faculty-age youngsters ought to eat between 4 and 10 ounces of seafood per week.”
A brand new letter from the senators to the USDA, urging implementation of GAO’s suggestions, expands on that time. “Through the college yr, taking part college students obtain practically two-thirds of their day by day energy from college meals,” they wrote Tuesday. “The reliance on college meals mandates that the NSLP present wholesome, effectively balanced meals to make sure college students obtain the vitamins they want for a nutritious diet. Nevertheless, college students taking part within the NSLP could also be lacking out on the advantages of a balanced food regimen that features nutritious and high-protein seafood.”
The USDA spent greater than $14 billion on the federal lunch program in 2019. About $1.3 billion was direct spending on meals, together with seafood, that faculty officers can order from a division catalogue, in keeping with GAO. Money reimbursements to native college authorities equaled $12.9 billion. USDA-directly-purchased meals was between 15 and 20 p.c of the gadgets served at college lunches.
Joe City, the director of meals and vitamin companies for the Greenville County Colleges in South Carolina, welcomed the GAO report.
“I wholeheartedly help USDA selling extra seafood at school lunches,” he stated in an electronic mail. “It’s vital to our nation’s youth that they’re offered top quality vitamin in faculties, particularly since about 1/2 to 2/3 of the energy they eat come from college meals. Prime quality, sustainably sourced seafood gives many well being advantages for our kids, it’s a very lean protein and needs to be provided alongside different top quality proteins like poultry, beef, and pork.”
City is also the Ok-12 ambassador for the Seafood Diet Partnership, which promotes meals from the ocean.
Commerce associations for the meat and poultry industries had no touch upon the GAO report.
Jonathan Butcher, an schooling fellow with the conservative Heritage Basis, doesn’t object to seafood, however he stated that’s not the place USDA ought to focus its consideration on a program with different issues, together with improper funds. The meals program misplaced $492 million in overpayments in fiscal yr 2021, in keeping with paymentaccuracy.gov, a federal web site. That’s an enormous drop from the practically $1.9 billion misplaced in 2017.
“There’s all the time a restricted quantity of consideration and sources that they will put into any program,” Butcher stated.
However Linda Cornish, founder and president of the Seafood Diet Partnership, stated it’s the food regimen of school-age youngsters that wants consideration now.
“We as a nation needs to be shocked and alarmed by the massive disparity between our nation’s vitamin pointers and insurance policies and the way it’s truly carried out in our nationwide college vitamin packages,” she stated by electronic mail. “What we eat issues for our well being and the well being of our college students. All college foodservice determination makers and suppliers ought to learn this report fastidiously and with urgency.”