Thursday, April 9, 2009

Federal School Food Vending Standards Being Considered

According to an article in, Rethinking School Vending Machines, Senator Harkin has raised the issue of updating the nutrition standards for food sold in schools that is not part of the USDA reimbursable lunch or breakfast programs. He'd like to see rules on these "competitive foods" put into the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization currently under consideration. (The current Act expires in September 2009 and they are working on its replacement.)
In his opening statement, Harkin argued, “We know from surveys and common experience that the majority of our schools offer children ready access to heavily sweetened beverages, highly salted snacks, sugary and high-fat goods, and candy…We know from research what any parent understands from common sense—that junk food obtained from vending machines, snack bars, school stores, or à la carte lines is far less nutritious and far less nutritionally balanced than meals that meet USDA standards.” Unlike USDA-sponsored meals, none of all those other foods and beverages sold in schools needs to meet nutrition standards.

Harkin and others are arguing that these foods should be required to meet the same nutrition standards as lunch and breakfast. (Note: there are also efforts underway in the school food and health community to update those USDA school meal nutrition guidelines, pointing out that those are not strong enough and do not line up with the most up-to-date Dietary Guidelines for All Americans.)

But the idea is not without its opponents:
Testifying on behalf of the National School Boards Association, Reggie Felton urged the Committee to “refrain from enacting legislation that would further restrict the authority and flexibility of local school boards.” Felton also said that “Such restrictions would in all likelihood increase student purchases beyond school grounds, and could potentially “increase misunderstandings and complaints from parents regarding the banning of certain foods” while allowing others.