Daily News Archive
From October 12, 2006                                                                                                        

Food Producers Agree to Send Healthier Foods to Schools
(Beyond Pesticides, October 12, 2006) Five of the country’s largest snack food producers recently announced that they will begin sending healthier foods to schools in an effort to fight the rise in childhood obesity. Soon more nutritious foods will be replacing the sugary, fat-laden products found in most schools’ vending machines and cafeterias. The agreement does not address pesticides, but such health protective measures mark initial steps that move U.S. schools closer toward toxic-free food.

The five food manufacturers involved in the agreement include: Dannon, Kraft Foods, Mars, PepsiCo and the Campbell Soup Company, all who agreed to make specific changes in what they sell to schools.

Changes to the product lines include the following:

  • Mars has created a new line of nutritious snacks.
  • Frito-Lay, a unit of PepsiCo, is reformulating several products to meet the guidelines.
  • Kraft is decreasing the sodium and calories in products it sells for school vending machines.
  • Campbell is promoting soups that are lower in calories, fat and sodium, and offering additional products with less sodium.
  • Dannon is reducing the sugar content of its Danimals drinkable yogurt by 25 percent.

Critics such as the Center for Science in the Public Interest and the School Nutrition Association say because the guidelines are voluntary, they will not be effective. The groups would like to see government regulation instead. Janey Thorntnon, president of the School Nutrition Association said, “Our organization feels pretty strongly that we need some kind of nutrition guidance from the Department of Agriculture.”

Dr. Carlos Camargo, M.D., an associate professor of epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health comments, “I think it’s helpful for groups that have traditionally denied any connection between snack foods and obesity or health to be acknowledging now that there are links, and that moves the agenda forward.” Dr. Camargo said the Child Nutrition Promotion and School Lunch Protection Act of 2006, introduced in the Senate this year, would require the Department of Agriculture to set standards for snack foods based on those that the Institute of Medicine is expected to issue by the end of this year.

According to the Associated Press, education will be needed to make the agreement work because the agreement will be more difficult to implement than those announced in the past. Under the guidelines, products could contain no more than 35 percent sugar by weight and have no more than 230 milligrams of sodium. No trans fats would be allowed. No product could get more than 35 percent of its calories from fat. The guidelines would also set calorie limits for each serving based on age: 150 calories for elementary school children, 180 calories for middle school children and 200 calories for high school students. The guidelines do not indicate plans for diets free of pesticides, antibiotics and genetically engineered ingredients.

In May, the three largest soft drink companies also agreed to replace sugary soft drinks with more healthful beverages. These soft drink companies account for 90 percent of soft drinks in schools, which are sold through the company distributors. However there are about 70 snack food companies that supply schools, and those products are sold through independent vendors who are not in the agreement. While at a news conference announcing this initiative, former President Bill Clinton said: “The companies are going to work to convince distributors and even their competitors to follow suit. I think after today, their competitors are going to have a very difficult time explaining why they won’t.”

The new agreement, which may take effect at the beginning of the next school year, is the first nationwide effort to set strict nutrition guidelines for school vending machines. However, increasing numbers of parents throughout the country are already purchasing organic food for their children and pushing their schools to do the same. Due to a program sponsored by the organic yogurt company Stonyfield Farm, schools in Rhode Island, California, Massachusetts, New York, New Hampshire and Connecticut have or are getting new vending machines stocked with all-organic treats (See Daily News).

Children are a concern because their organ systems are still developing, which makes them more sensitive to toxic exposures. Studies show that a dietary intake of pesticides could represent the major source of exposure for infants and children. Children face unique hazards from pesticide exposure. They take in more pesticides relative to their body weight than adults in the food they eat and air they breathe.

According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), some states and school districts already have strict limits on food sold outside the government-regulated school lunch and breakfast programs. In a survey of states conducted by CSPI, findings showed that two-thirds of the school lunch and breakfast programs had either extremely weak policies on snack foods or no policy at all.

In the absence of government regulation and to respond to the request of parents, schools in Washington State and California introduced organic food into the their lunch programs. In 2004, the Seattle school district adopted H61.01, Breakfast and Lunch Program Procedure, a policy banning junk food and encouraging organic food to be served in school cafeterias (See Daily News).

TAKE ACTION: Ask your child's school to include organic menus. Whenever possible, buy organic food for your family.