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USDA Voices Token Opposition to Junk Food in Schools

Published Tuesday, February 6, 2001

Gov' ' t Concerned About School Snacks
By PHILIP BRASHER / Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) -- To cut down on the soda, snacks and sweets
children are eating, the government wants to require that all food sold in
schools meets nutrition standards. That could mean an end to soda
machines in the hall and candy and cookie sales to buy band uniforms.

The junkfood that kids consume at school is contributing to obesity
and other health problems, the Agriculture Department said in a report
requested by Congress.

The department sets nutrition standards for school lunches and
breakfasts, but it would take an act of Congress for it to begin
regulating what is served outside the cafeterias.

" You walk outside the door of the cafeteria and the halls are lined
with pop machines, " said Marilyn Hurt, president of the American
School Food Association. " There' s nothing to prevent the student
from spending their money on pop and candy instead of going in and
getting a sandwich, milk and a piece of fruit."

The Agriculture Department says there are nutritional problems with
both the snacks being offered in cafeterias and what' s being offered
in vending machines elsewhere in schools.

" When children are taught in the classroom about good nutrition and
the value of healthy food choices but are surrounded by vending
machines, snack bars, school stores and a la carte sales offering low
nutrient density options, they receive the message that good nutrition
is merely an academic exercise, " the report says.

Soft drink contracts have become an ever-popular fund-raiser for
cash-strapped schools, and cafeterias are also offering an increasing
array of items that include snacks, desserts and flavored drinks.

Between 1996 and 1997, more than 30 percent of school districts
increased the number of snacks they were offering in cafeterias, and
22 percent widened the array of desserts, a separate USDA report says.

No data were available on sodas sold outside cafeterias, but about 200
of the nation' s 12, 000 school districts have contracts that give
soft drink companies exclusive rights to sell their products in
schools, according to the National Soft Drink Association.

Charles County, Md., school officials recently signed a contract
giving the Coca-Cola Co. exclusive rights to sell its products in
county schools. In return, Coca-Cola gives the schools 45 percent of
the sales and an additional $175, 000 a year. The school system is
using the money to eliminate a $50 per student athletic fee as well as
fees for cooking and other vocational classes.

" This arrangement is really benefitting all of our students and their
families, " said Katie O' Malley-Simpson, a school district
spokeswoman. She added that students are not allowed to use the
machines until after lunch.

In school cafeterias, lunches and breakfasts must meet federal dietary
guidelines that include limits on overall fat content. There also are
minimal nutrition standards for drinks and snacks sold in cafeterias,
although they are low enough that some candy bars and potato chips can
meet them if they have a significant amount of at least one nutrient.

The Agriculture Department imposed restrictions on soft drinks and
other items sold outside cafeterias in 1977, but a court overturned
the rules in 1983.

Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman, who took office last month, is
reviewing the report' s proposals, said spokesman Kevin Herglotz. The
report was completed in the final days of the Clinton administration,
sent to Congress and later posted on the department' s Web site.

Although Congress asked for the latest report, school officials,
beverage makers and the food industry are likely to object strongly to
the department' s recommendations.

" It' s hard for me to see Congress getting into this issue or
allowing that much power to go to the Department of Agriculture, "
said Vicki Rafel, the National PTA' s vice president of legislation.

Sean McBride, a spokesman for the soft drink association, said it was
the department' s fault that students don' t want to eat school
lunches.

" The food is lousy, it takes too long to get through the line, " he
said. " This is an attempt to point the blame at anybody but who' s
responsible."

On the Net:

The report: http://www.fns.usda.gov/cnd/Lunch/ and then click on Foods
Sold in Competition with USDA School Meal Programs.

American School Food Service Association: http://www.asfsa.org

National Soft Drink Association: http://www.nsda.org (PROFILE
(CO:Coca Cola Co; TS:KO; IG:BVG;)


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