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Jul 1 2013

USDA issues rules for competitive school foods. Yes!

At long last the USDA released Interim Final Rules for competitive foods—the snacks and sodas sold from vending machines and carts outside of federally supported school lunches.

They were worth the wait.

The new  standards are tough and will change the food landscape in schools much for the better.  They are summarized in a handy flier.   The new rules require:

  • Snacks to be rich in whole grains, have real food as a first ingredient, and provide nutritional value.
  • Drinking water to be available to all students at no cost.
  • Other drinks to contain no more than 40 calories per 8 fl oz, or 60 calories per 12 fl oz.  This excludes all regular sodas, even Gatorade. 

USDA summarizes the changes in its Smart Snacks in School Infographic:

Competitive foods have long been a bone of contention.  They compete for kids’ food money with the school meals.  Although USDA regulates where and when they can be sold, schools routinely violate such rules.  I’ve seen for myself  how many schools allow vending machines to be open during lunch periods.

The USDA issued nutrition standards for school meals early in 2012, but it’s taken this long to issue the ones for competitive foods, no doubt because of the expected uproar from food and drink producers whose products will now be excluded.

To back up the rules, the USDA has produced a vast array of materials and documents.

One web page is devoted to a toolkit of materials for “the healthier school day.”

A separate web page links to all of the legislative and other documents, videos, issue briefs, Q and A’s, statement from First Lady Michele Obama, and other items of technical assistance to the new “smart snacks in schools” program and rules.

Also see:

But note: the rule is “interim” because the 120-day comment period is now open.  USDA can still make plenty of changes.  Schools will have a year to implement the final standards.

Watch the lobbying begin.

You think there won’t be opposition?  Think again.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has just released a report recommending that USDA ease off on restricting the amount of meat and grains allowed in the school meal standards that went into effect this year.   Apparently, USDA agrees.  GAO reports are usually requested by members of Congress and this one is no exception.  Guess which party these particular requesters belong to, and who funds their election campaigns.

USDA deserves much applause and support for its courage in issuing rules for competitive foods that might actually help kids stay healthier.

Mar 12 2013

Corporate health 1, public health 0: Judge nixes Bloomberg soda cap

Late yesterday afternoon, while I was fielding international calls about the soda size cap scheduled to take effect today, state Supreme Court justice Milton A. Tingling “enjoined and permanently restrained” New York City from implementing the portion-size rule.  

First, let’s recall what the soda cap is about.

In the 1950s, a 16-ounce soda was LARGE.

 

Today, a 16-ounce soda is SMALL.

 

Never mind the effect of increasing portion size and calories on body weight.  The court, says the Tingling opinion:

Does not find the necessity to address at this point the appropriateness of the Board’s attempts to classify obesity as an epidemic or a contributing factor to chronic disease…the issue before this court is whether the Board has the authority to mandate which issues come under its jurisdiction…in this case it the Portion Cap Rule and whether the Board has the authority to promulgate same (page 10). 

He concludes that the proposed rule is: 

Fraught with arbitrary and capricious consequences… uneven enforcement even within a particular City block, much less the City as a whole…It is arbitrary and capricious because it applies to some but not all food establishments in the City, it excludes other beverages that have significantly higher concentrations of sugar sweeteners and/or calories on suspect grounds, and …no limitations on re-fills…the Portion Cap Rule is found to be arbitrary and capricious (page 34). 

And this:

The Portion Cap Rule, if upheld, would create an administrative Leviathan…The Rule would not only violate the separation of powers doctrine, it would eviscerate it. Such an evisceration has the potential to be more troubling than sugar sweetened beverages (page 35). 

OK, so the soda industry won this round.  How come? 

The New York Times points out that the portion size cap aroused:

the ire of the American soft-drink industry, which undertook a multimillion-dollar campaign to block it, flying banners from airplanes over Coney Island, plastering subway stations with advertisements and filing the lawsuit that led to the ruling.

The American Beverage Association issued this statement:     

The court ruling provides a sigh of relief to New Yorkers and thousands of small businesses in New York City that would have been harmed by this arbitrary and unpopular ban.  With this ruling behind us, we look forward to collaborating with city leaders on solutions that will have a meaningful and lasting impact on the people of New York City.

The Mayor says the city will appeal.

CSPI’s Michael Jacobson notes that this is what happened with calorie labels.  Eventually, he reminds us, the city prevailed:

Many years hence, people will look back and think it was crazy for sugar drinks to ever be served in 32- and 64-ounce pails.