First lady Michelle Obama came out swinging on Tuesday against a new House Republican-led attempt to scale back school lunch standards.
"This is unacceptable," Obama told a group of school nutritionists gathered at the White House, according to a White House pool report. "It's unacceptable to me not just as first lady but also as a mother."
The first lady accused Republicans of playing politics with the nutrition standards.
"The last thing we can afford to so right now is play politics with our kids health," she said. "Now is not the time to roll back everything we have worked for."
"We have to be willing to fight the hard fight now," Michelle Obama said.
The first lady has made fighting childhood obesity her signature issue, but a GOP spending bill could erode new nutrition standards President Obama's administration has set up.
The Obama-backed 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act requires schools whose lunch programs are federally subsidized under the National School Lunch Program to adhere to new stricter nutrition guidelines.
Those rules began to go into effect in 2012, and stronger sodium and whole grain rules are slated for the next school year.
Critics of the law, led by the School Nutrition Association, say some struggling districts need more time to adjust and are being hit hard financially by the requirements. They point to a drop of 1 million students participating in the full-priced National School Lunch option to argue some schools need a waiver.
The House Appropriations Committee on Thursday is expected to approve a 2015 spending bill for the Agriculture Department mandating that it waive nutrition standards for school programs that have lost money over six months.
Subcommittee Chairman Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.) said he put the language in after hearing complaints from “lunch ladies” and that he was not responding to frozen food industry pressure.
In contrast, the Senate Appropriations Committee last week adopted a bipartisan compromise after a negotiation led by Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.).
The language would prevent new more stringent sodium levels from being implemented pending further research and would also require the USDA to identify products that schools can use in lieu of whole grain pastas and breads if 100 percent whole grain products cannot be purchased.
It would force the USDA to report to Congress on its plan of technical assistance to help schools struggling to meet the new requirements.
The resolution of the school lunch battle is likely to come this summer, as the House and Senate work on a conference agreement for the 2015 USDA funding bill.