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Citizens Call For Better School Nutrition Standards

by: Jill Richardson

Sat Jun 13, 2009 at 10:00:00 AM PDT

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It's a little backwards that seltzer water is prohibited from school cafeterias (its a "food of minimal nutritional value") but candy bars are allowed. And a small category of sugary junk (cotton candy, for example) is also prohibited from school cafeterias - but only during breakfast and lunchtime. That junk, which is thought to be so bad it can't be sold in the cafeteria during lunch, can be sold anywhere else in the school, and it can even be sold in the cafeteria during times other than breakfast and lunch. This is known as the "time and place" rule and it's a bane of those who wish to see the standards of school foods improved. So is the rule that sets which junk is so heinous it can't be sold in the cafeteria (a standard so lax that cookies, brownies, and candy bars are still permitted).

On June 24, a group of advocates from across the country (who are cleverly referred to by the event's planners as "The Healthy School Food Brigade") will gather in Washington, DC to try and change this.  

Jill Richardson :: Citizens Call For Better School Nutrition Standards
The Health School Food Brigade is advocating for a bill, introduced into the House by Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) and into the Senate by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), that calls on the USDA to update the standards of "foods of minimal nutritional value" based on current science and eliminates the time and place rule once and for all. The bill is known as "The Child Nutrition Promotion and School Lunch Protection Act" (S.934 in the Senate and H.R.1324 in the House), and it will hopefully be passed along with this year's Child Nutrition Reauthorization.

The lobby day itself will be quite remarkable. So far about 85 people have registered but the registration is still open until June 17 and it's open to anybody (hint hint). The day will began with a breakfast, followed by a session preparing the advocates for the rest of their day. From there they will have meetings with members of Congress and their staffers, lunch, a press conference (which several members of Congress will attend), and then more meetings with Congress members and their staff.

The day was organized jointly by Participant Media (the production company that just released Food, Inc.) and Center for Science in the Public Interest, along with a number of other advocacy organizations. Participant Media is generously funding the entire day (including flying in and accommodating 20 advocates from around the country) and scheduling the meetings with members of Congress.

The chances the bill will pass this time around are pretty good. Similar bills have been introduced before with less success, but the political environment in the country has changed since then. Previously, food and beverage companies favored state and local legislation instead of national rules on school nutrition standards. With more and more strict sets of rules cropping up around the country, those companies now realize that a lack of a uniform national standard makes it more difficult for them to do business because they literally have to meet different nutrition, packaging, and serving size requirements for each different area of the country that has different local rules. (What is notable about this bill is that it will NOT pre-empt state and local standards, so while it establishes a minimum national bar for nutrition, it also allows cities and states to implement stricter standards if they wish.)

Currently, the bill has 140 co-sponsors in the House, including all of the Democrats on the Education & Labor committee except for the leadership (it's more or less traditional for them to maintain neutrality on individual bills their committees hear), and about 20 Democrats from the Senate Agriculture Committee.

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