Senate Hearing to Debate Junk Food in Schools Tuesday


WASHINGTON—Tomorrow the Senate Agriculture Committee will hold a hearing on school nutrition issues, a move that the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) says signals new hope for strong, national action to get junk food out of schools. Senators are expected to discuss the Child Nutrition Promotion and School Lunch Protection Act, sponsored by Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), among others, as well as the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s fruit and vegetable snack program, long championed by Harkin and which CSPI seeks to expand.

"Though many states and local school districts are undertaking heroic efforts to improve the nutritional quality of foods sold in schools, the junk-food industry fights those efforts tooth and nail," said CSPI nutrition policy director Margo G. Wootan. "The industry likes to say school foods should be subject to local controls, yet it strikes back at the efforts of parents and health professionals when they try to act locally. That's why the legislation sponsored by Senators Harkin and Murkowski is so important."

The Child Nutrition Promotion and School Lunch Protection Act would call on the USDA to update what CSPI says are disco-era nutrition standards for school foods from vending machines, school stores, and a la carte in the cafeteria, and would apply those standards throughout the school day and everywhere on school grounds. USDA’s current standards limit the sale of so-called foods of minimal nutritional value and only apply to cafeterias during meal times. Those standards allow candy bars, cookies, and sugary fruit-flavored drinks with very little juice, while disallowing things like seltzer water and breath mints.

Among the witnesses Senators will query is Susan Neely, the top Washington, D.C., lobbyist for the soda industry. Her American Beverage Association represents Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and other soft drink companies in their efforts to block local and national legislation to improve school foods.

Despite increasing rates of obesity in children and teens, the Senate hasn't held a hearing on the sale of junk foods in schools since at least 2003.

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Contact Jeff Cronin (jcronin[at] or Ariana Stone (astone[at]