Congress Set To Ban Soda, Junk Food From Schools

Snickers and Cokes would be a thing of the past at school cafeterias and vending machines if the Senate approves an ambitious amendment from Senators Harkin (D-IA) and Murkowsky (R-AK). The amendment to the Farm Bill would establish strict federal guidelines limiting the sale of deliciously unhealthy treats brimming with sugar, salt, and fat.

The nutrition standards would allow only plain bottled water and eight-ounce servings of fruit juice or plain or flavored low-fat milk with up to 170 calories to be sold in elementary and middle schools. High school students could also buy diet soda or, in places like school gyms, sports drinks. Other drinks with as many as 66 calories per eight ounces could be sold in high schools, but that threshold would drop to 25 calories per eight-ounce serving in five years.

Food for sale would have to be limited in saturated and trans fat and have less than 35 percent sugar. Sodium would be limited, and snacks must have no more than 180 calories per serving for middle and elementary schools and 200 calories for high schools.

The standards would not affect occasional fund-raising projects, like Girl Scout cookie sales.

Although states would not be able to pass stronger restrictions, individual school districts could.

The rules have the support of food and drink manufacturers, including the American Beverage Association, which worked closely on the amendment with Mr. Harkin’s office and the Center for Science in the Public Interest, an advocacy group that has been critical of the food industry.

“This whole effort has momentum because of the variety of interests that have come together who do not usually find agreement,” said Susan Neely, president of the beverage association.

Some parents and nutritionists are angry that states will not be able to enact even tougher limits.

The inclusion of state-level preemption is angering several advocates, but makes the compromise palatable to the industry. Once advocates of local control, the sugar makers are betting that Congress will be less eager than adventurous states to maintain tough regulations that could harm their business.

The amendment’s fate – and that of the larger farm bill – is precariously uncertain. Senate Republican’s derailed the chamber’s last attempt to bring up the farm bill by demanding the right to offer amendments repealing the estate tax and adjusting the alternative minimum tax. Cloture was rejected 55-42. Senate leadership is expected to wedge the Farm Bill back onto the crowded floor schedule for debate early next week.

Effort to Limit Junk Food in Schools Faces Hurdles [NYT]
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(Photo: Scott Ableman)