The Impact of Federal Commodity Donations on the School Lunch Program

CED-77-32: Published: Jan 31, 1977. Publicly Released: Jan 31, 1977.

Additional Materials:


Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800

The Department of Agriculture's (USDA) purchasing and distributing of commodities for the school lunch program was reviewed in five States (California, Kansas, Missouri, Ohio, and Pennsylvania) and 15 school districts to: assess the responsiveness of the Federal commodity program to the needs of school districts; evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of school districts receiving cash in lieu of Federal commodities under the school lunch program; and assess the reasons for plate waste (food served to the student but not eaten) in the school lunch program and identify possible solutions to the problem.

USDA surplus removal and price support programs go a long way toward meeting the needs of school districts. However, improvements are needed to make the school lunch program more effective and responsive to school district needs. The USDA Food and Nutrition Service has not taken adequate steps to make sure that the commodity preferences reported by the States are based on and reflect school district needs. Sometimes certain "traditional" items continue to be provided without being accepted by the States, and Department commodity purchase policies sometimes result in commodity purchases not highly preferred by the States. Districts, consequently, were being offered goods that did not match their needs or desires. Relative commodity costs are higher for smaller school districts than for the larger ones. If most districts, as they want, receive cash in lieu of Federal commodities, small district food costs might increase.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should: establish procedures so that school districts views are reflected in preference reports and considered in the purchase and distribution of Federal commodities; require States to pass on to the school districts all available commodity options; expand the means of finding out from the States and school districts what commodities are acceptable; improve the timing of Federal commodity deliveries; review costs and benefits of providing commodities in more acceptable form and quality; undertake greater promotion of nutrition education in school health programs to help reduce plate waste; do more to encourage State and local school authorities to improve lunch facilities and atmosphere; require States to give districts more advance notice of commodity deliveries; and include a nutrient standard as an option to the Type A lunch pattern to provide greater flexibility in using commodities.

    Agency Affected:


Explore the full database of GAO's Open Recommendations »

Feb 22, 2018

Feb 7, 2018

Jan 23, 2018

Dec 18, 2017

Nov 30, 2017

Sep 20, 2017

Sep 14, 2017

Sep 13, 2017

Jul 18, 2017

Looking for more? Browse all our products here