School lunch standards feed $10 billion controversy

The school lunch program was first started to help end childhood obesity and teach healthy eating habits, but is now pushing some children even further in the opposite direction.

WASHINGTON—The ferocity of first lady Michelle Obama's counterattack against a proposal to temporarily waive school lunch standards shows what's really at stake in Congress: a $10 billion effort to wean Americans off junk food, a campaign whose seeds were planted nearly two decades ago by Berkeley food crusader Alice Waters.

The waiver would give some schools a one-year reprieve on newly increased nutrition standards, passed by Congress in 2010 and championed by the first lady as a key part of her "Let's Move" campaign to end childhood obesity in a generation. The new standards require servings of fresh fruit and vegetables, more whole grains, and less sugar, trans fat and salt.

The rules have been under attack from Republicans since they were implemented in 2012, with Congress intervening last year to make pizza toppings count as a vegetable. In May, GOP lawmakers tucked the new waiver into an Agriculture Department spending bill, touching off a battle that has divided school food service directors across the country.