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The influence battle for your child's lunch

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A cafeteria employee stocking a school lunch room
Will states get a waiver from new healthy lunch regulations? Image credit: US Dept. of Agriculture Flickr

Some of the commercial food giants responsible for the pizza and milk in your child's school lunch have also been serving up healthy portions of campaign cash, contributing to members of Congress who could decide the fate of new healthy school lunch regulations. Championed by First Lady Michelle Obama as part of her efforts to curb childhood obesity, the new regulations require schools offer lunch fare with more whole grains and less saturated fat.

Rep. Rob Aderholt, a Republican from Alabama, chairs the House Appropriations subcommittee on Agriculture and is the architect of an amendment to House Resolution 4800 — an appropriations bill — that would allow states to delay implementation of the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act. The Alabama Republican has received at least $19,000 in campaign contributions from food processing companies in the 2014 election cycle, industry data from OpenSecrets.org shows.

For an overview of food industry influence, see "Five charts on food industry influence."

The School Nutrition Association (SNA) is a coalition of food supply corporations, cafeteria workers and others employed in the school nutrition industry who argue that the new lunch regulations result in millions of dollars of waste, as students simply dump the unwanted food in the trash, or are simply opting out of school-provided lunches altogether. Under HR 4800's current iteration, school authorities that could demonstrate that their food programs were operating at a net loss could be granted a temporary waiver from the Department of Agriculture.

Opponents of the yearlong reprieve say its a ploy that will eventually lead to the dismantling of the law.

The Salt Blog at NPR has detailed how the food fight has unfolded on K Street, but campaign finance data show that major suppliers of cafeteria fare are also pursuing other angles.

Commercial food giants such as ConAgra, General Mills and Schwann — along with other members of the School Nutrition Association (SNA) — have donated thousands of dollars to the campaign accounts of members of the Agriculture subcommittee, which holds jurisdiction over the USDA and the national Food and Nutrition Service. Overall, food processing industry employees and political action committees — not all members of the SNA — have given over $117,000 to members of the subcommittee in the 2014 cycle alone (see table below).

In the past School Nutrition Alliance members have taken to the regulatory process to voice their concerns over the new regulations. Last year when the USDA solicited comments on the proposed regulations, at least 337 comments streamed in from individuals writing on behalf of the SNA, Sunlight's DocketWrench shows. But the vast majority of the 66,000 comments logged by the agency were in favor of the regulations.

Delayed by the party elections for a new House Majority Leader, the bill is expected to see a vote on the House floor this week, though President Obama has threatened a veto.