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Food Giants & California Legislature Preserve Junk Food Diet for Schools

Press Release

Sep 27, 2004

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Strange Bedfellows Sell Out Schoolchildren's Health -- by Carla Nino and
Michele Simon

OAKLAND, Calif., Sept. 27 (AScribe Newswire) -- Following is an
editorial by Carla Nino, president of the California State PTA, and Michele
Simon, director of the Center for Informed Food Choices in Oakland, Calif.

---

Lawmakers in California have dealt the latest blow to the state's
education system, but this time, it wasn't about test scores or classroom
size, but children's health. On the last day of session, a bill that would
have set nutrition standards on food sold in California public schools was
defeated by only five votes.

The junk food industry is of course ecstatic. But right by their
side is an unlikely ally: the California School Food Service Association
(CSFSA). This organization of school nutritionists, food managers, and
educators has been strongly and actively opposed to every effort in
California to establish nutrition standards on food and beverages sold in
schools.

While we do have nominal nutrition standards on school meals, for
all other foods, it's a junk food free-for-all that makes your corner
mini-mart look like a health food store. Last year, a survey of California
schools revealed that more than 75 percent of food and beverages sold
through vending machines consisted of junk food, sugary sodas, candy, chips,
cakes and cookies. A national survey fared no better.

With rising rates of childhood obesity and diabetes, state Sen.
Martha Escutia boldly took the lead authoring a bill to address this
problem. But her colleagues were apparently more persuaded by the big
moneyed interests of the food industry.

A key opponent was the Grocery Manufacturers of America (GMA), whose
140 members enjoy annual sales of more than $500 billion in the United
States alone, and consist of major food corporations such as Kraft, Mars and
PepsiCo. GMA is on record as opposing virtually every state bill across the
nation that would restrict the sale of junk food or soda in schools. A state
as large as California represents huge business, so a defeat there would be
devastating both for the lost profits and because of the potential domino
effect.

In support of the bill were no fewer than 80 organizations,
including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the California Medical
Association, the California Teachers Association and the California State
PTA. Only five organizations opposed the legislation -- four of them
industry groups. Standing alone in opposition among public sector
organizations was CSFSA. At the last minute, they distributed a floor alert
urging legislators to vote against the nutrition standards bill, citing
concerns over revenue losses.

We often hear the complaint that in these days of budget cuts,
cash-strapped schools need all the money they can get. But students were
never supposed to be responsible for subsidizing their public education with
their pocket change in the first place. Even so, schools in Los Angeles and
around the country have proven they can make more money selling healthier
options.

CSFSA also tried to argue that the nutrition standards were overly
restrictive. But the guidelines have been thoroughly reviewed, first
developed in 2001 by a panel of nationally-recognized school nutrition
experts, and further refined by the state legislature over the past three
years. In contrast, the CSFSA's proposed nutrition guidelines would allow
all foods and beverages to be served or sold on school campuses, which
obviously amounts to no standards at all.

Finally, opponents say that schools should be allowed to maintain
local control over the food they sell. The California State PTA believes in
local control when it serves the best interest of all children and youth,
not when it serves to accelerate the sales of junk food. And because the
bill did not dictate how the standards should be implemented, it actually
supported local decision-making. Even the Association of California School
Administrators (representing superintendents and principals), which usually
favors local control, recognized the overriding importance of setting
statewide school nutrition standards and strongly supported the bill.

Students learn not only by what we tell them, but also by what we
sell them. And now, California students have learned that their health is
for sale.

---

Carla Nino is president of the California State PTA, and Michele
Simon is director of the Center for Informed Food Choices in Oakland, Calif.

NOTE TO EDITORS: If this is published in a California paper, please
add the Bill number #SB1566 in the text. This editorial is available for
free and immediate use. If used, please inform Michele Simon, Director of
the Center for Informed Food Choices, at 510-465-0322 or
michele@informedeating.org.

KEYWORDS: obesity, nutrition, junk food, diabetes

-30-

Media Contact: Michele Simon, Director, Center for Informed Food
Choices, 510-465-0322; michele@informedeating.org NOTE TO EDITORS: If this
is published in a California paper, please add the Bill number SB1566 in the
text. This editorial is available for free and immediate use. If used,
please inform Michele Simon, Director, Center for Informed Food Choices, at
510-465-0322 or michele@informedeating.org.

AScribe - The Public Interest Newswire / 510-653-9400 www.ascribe.org