WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Four major food and beverage makers announced support on Thursday for legislation expanding U.S. control over snacks sold at schools and allowing the government to ban junk food from campuses.
It would be the first crack down on school snacks in three decades but the compromise stops short of proposals, made in the past, to ban vending machines from schools.
At present, the government bars the sale of junk food in school lunchrooms but has no authority over school stores, snack bars or vending machines.
“This really is an historic opportunity,” said Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Blanche Lincoln at a news conference to publicize the compromise. She said the list of food now banned, which includes gum and flavored ices, is outdated.
Senator Tom Harkin said new, broader rules on snack foods would prevent pupils from spending their lunch money on sugary drinks, candy and potato chips.
The new law would empower the Agriculture Department to set nutrition standards for all food sold on school grounds under a bill set for a Senate Agriculture Committee vote next week.
Coca-Cola Co, Nestle USA, PepsiCo Inc and privately held Mars Inc joined a beverage trade group, five health groups and the National Parent Teacher Association in a letter to support the new rules.
Susan Neely of the American Beverage Association said her members, as part of an initiative with a health group, have voluntarily cut back on high-calorie drinks sold at schools.
“Having a national standard makes a difference,” she said.
Snack sales are a money-maker for most schools and help cover costs. The National School Boards Association says Congress should let local officials decide what can be sold.
Under the compromise, the Agriculture Department would write rules for food sold at school based on the federal Dietary Guidelines for Americans and nutrition research as well as local standards, “including voluntary standards for beverages and snack foods.”
The Snack Food Association, a trade group, said guidelines based on overall diet would avoid a “good food/bad food” categorization.
Reporting by Charles Abbott; Editing by Eric Beech