Natural Foods Merchandiser

Parallel bills would tighten regulations on foods sold in schools

The Child Nutrition Act of 1966 is horribly outdated. Soda pop, fries and cookies are allowable fare — and big sellers — in American schools, so Rep. Lynn Woolsey, a California Democrat, introduced the Child Nutrition Promotion and School Lunch Protection Act in the House in March.

A Senate version of the bill also is making its way through the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry. The bill, introduced by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, in April, would give the Secretary of Agriculture the authority to regulate foods sold throughout school campuses during all hours in which school is in session.

Currently, the United States Department of Agriculture only has the authority to regulate food sold through the National School Lunch Program — meals in the lunchroom sold only during lunch hours.

The old law included a list of "foods of minimal nutritional value" that were to be avoided during lunchtime, but the list is small and doesn't take into account all the new foods, especially refined and processed foods, that have been introduced into the American diet since the 1970s.

The bills are similar. The USDA would be required to issue regulations based on scientific nutritional standards for all foods sold on school property. Harkin's bill adds that "nutrients of concern" also be addressed. The House version, also introduced in April, goes a step further and regulates any foods sold during before- or after-school activities that are under school supervision. Foods sold by fundraisers would be excluded.

Food safety advocates say this legislation is long overdue, but some are encouraging the public to contact their representatives and call for the legislation to be expanded to include food sold by fundraisers associated with schools.

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