Hold the ketchup: School lunch cutbacks a “bureaucratic goof”
WASHINGTON (AP)—President Reagan, faced with adverse public reaction, has ordered the Agriculture Department to reconsider its controversial school lunch regulations that trimmed portions and classified ketchup as a vegetable.
The action came Friday, announced first by budget director David Stockman and then by other administration officials following a meeting between Reagan and Agriculture Secretary John R. Block.
“They’ve been withdrawn. It was a bureaucratic goof that we’re going to change,” Stockman said, adding that the Agriculture Department “not only has egg on its face, but ketchup, too.
Chief White House spokesman David Gergen said later that Stockman jumped the gun and that before leaving for a weekend at Camp David, “The president requested, and Secretary Block agreed, to withdraw these regulations.”
Gergen said that after the proposals generated controversy, Reagan raised questions about them several times and wanted to know “what are these all about?”
After seeing the president, Block, citing “adverse public reaction,” said he “made the decision to withdraw” the regulations.
The proposals would have cut the minimum portions of meat, vegetables, bread and milk. They would have allowed food such as tofu—a soybean meal curd—to be sustituted for meat and ketchup to be used to meet some vegetable requirements.
Stockman said the regulations were “misleading” and had not been submitted to the Office of Management and Budget for review.
“The idea that suddenly this was a federal requirement to cut the hamburger by a quarter, by 25 percent, was ridiculous,” Stockman said. “These are simply minimum standards…The schools can do anything they want beyond that in terms of the portions they serve and in terms of what kind of meals they compose.
“What we’re going to do,” he added, “is put out a new set of regulations that will remove that misleading aspect.”
As soon as they were issued, the portion reductions became the target of severe criticism, with opponents accusing the adminitration of playing with the health of 26 million children.
USDA officials said when the proposed changes were issued theat they expected school officials to exceed the minimum requirements. Critics argued that most school officials would interpret the minimums as maximums and provide no more food than required to meet the standards.
The proposed changes followed congressional approval of substantial cuts in federal subsidies for school lunches. Those cuts doubled the price of a school lunch to 40 cents for millions of poor children and raised average price [sic] of a lunch for another 14 million children from 60 cents to 75 cents.
The regulations were to take effect in mid-November. Agriculture Department officials said they were intended to help local school districts offset some of the lost federal subsidies by saving them as much as 10 cents a meal.