Okay To Sell 'Junk Food,' Agency Tells Schools
Washington--Despite protests from parents and school officials, the Agriculture Department has ruled that beginning this month, schools will be allowed to sell "junk food" during the school day.
The department amended its regulations in the wake of a 1983 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in National Soft Drink Association v. Block that the department exceeded its rulemaking authority when it issued orders on the "time and place" in which junk food could be sold on school grounds.
In 1980, the Congress amended the Child Nutrition Act of 1966 to allow the department to regulate the sale of competitive food in schools that participate in the National School Lunch Program. After the amendment passed, the department barred schools from selling junk food throughout the day until the last lunch period.
The agency defined junk food as food of minimal nutritional value, such as carbonated soft drinks, popsicles, chewing gum, and certain candies, according to Gene Vincent, a departmental spokesman.
The new regulations only prohibit the selling of junk food in food-ser-vice areas during meal times. Other limitations may be enforced at the discretion of the state or local education agency, the department said in the May 17 Federal Register.
The comment period on the proposed rules ended in May 1984. At that time, about 95 percent of the 858 comments received were opposed to the proposal, "most citing the same two objections: income issues and nutritional issues," the department reported.
Most of those commenting expressed concern about the nutritional value of the food, both that "nutrition efforts in the school system should not be weakened" and that "the proposal undermined the nutrition education of parents and schools," the department said.
Those opposed on the basis of income said the proposal would encourage competition with the schools' nonprofit lunch program by allowing all types of food to be sold just outside the cafeteria.
"Many commenters feared that this would considerably reduce student participation in the programs and ultimately reduce school food-service income," the department noted.
'Freedom of Personal Choice'
The 21 supporters of the proposal most often cited "freedom of personal choice" as the reason they thought junk food should be allowed in schools, the department said. Some also said that competitive food sales were important for school fund-raising efforts.
"One school official stated that competition was healthy and would force school cafeterias to improve their services," the department noted.--at