Senate Drops Measure to Greatly Reduce Sugar and Fat in Food at Schools

By Jane Black
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Senate on Thursday night dropped an amendment to the farm bill that would have banned fatty foods and high-calorie beverages at school snack bars, stores and vending machines, dealing a blow to its chances of passage.

The National School Nutrition Standards Amendment, sponsored by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), would have been the first legislation to update the nutrition standards since 1979, a period in which scientific opinion on what foods are appropriate has drastically shifted.

" 'Disappointed' doesn't begin to describe how we feel," said Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. "There's a remarkable amount of consensus for national school nutrition standards. It seems it just got caught up in the complications of the farm bill."

The measure, the result of months of negotiations, ultimately garnered the support of more than 100 public health and education organizations and food industry giants, including Coca-Cola, Nestle and Frito-Lay. Proponents had hailed it as a crucial step toward addressing the dismal state of school nutrition: A CSPI report card last month found that schools in two-thirds of the states had either weak or no nutrition standards in place. The District of Columbia got a C; Maryland a D-plus; Virginia scored a D.

Concerns on both sides of the aisle held up the vote, an aide to Harkin said. Some Democrats objected to federal preemption of stricter state standards, while Republicans had concerns about restrictions on snack foods, he said.

Harkin indicated that he is not giving up. "We're coming back with that," the senator said. "We have a lot of support for it."

The amendment would have banned most candy, cakes and cookies, staples of today's school snack bars. Sugary beverages, considered one of the main causes of teenage obesity, would also have been restricted. Serving sizes and calories for all drinks, with the exception of bottled water, were to be capped.

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