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Junk Foods to be Banned in British Schools

By Philippe Naughton
Times of London

September 28, 2005

School canteens will no longer be allowed to serve cheap bangers or burgers, and vending machines will have to sell healthier options instead of crisps, chocolate and fizzy drinks.

Ruth Kelly, the Education Secretary, told the Labour Party conference today that she was determined to end the "scandal of junk food" in British schools – which became a subject for national debate earlier this year after a Jamie Oliver documentary series.

She told delegates: "Next week, I will publish the report of the School Meals Review Panel, which will set out detailed proposals for tough new nutritional standards.

"But I am absolutely clear that the scandal of junk food served every day in school canteens must end. So today I can announce that I will ban low-quality reprocessed bangers and burgers high in fat, salt and sugar being being served in schools, from next September.

"And because children need healthy options throughout the school day, I can also announce that from next September no school will be able to have vending machines selling crisps, chocolate and sugary fizzy drinks."

The announcement is the first specific policy initiative since Mr Oliver’s programme, Jamie’s School Dinners, awoke parents and voters to the scandal of junk food in schools, where the budget per meal can be as low as 37p. The Government has already pledged extra funding for the costs of meals. But coming just weeks into the new school term, it means that canteens will be free to dish out the junk for the rest of the school year.

The announcement was met with scepticism and even hostility by some parents’ and headteachers’ groups. Margaret Morrissey, spokeswoman for the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations, said: "Whilst we support the initiative to raise nutritional standards for school meals, there is a fine line between improvement and closing down the school meal service.

"We have heard reports of canteens closing through lack of take-up since the Jamie Oliver programme. For many, admittedly not all, children on free school meals, school dinner is the only cooked meal they have and whilst it needs to be good it also needs to be available.

"What we would like to hear is that every school in the country has to provide a hot meal for children.."

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said: "A ban on unhealthy food in schools carries with it very practical problems of implementation.

"Pupils will continue to eat unhealthy packed lunches and visit the local chip shop. Schools, especially those in private finance initiatives, may be locked into long term contracts with caterers and vending suppliers.

"They may not actually have control over what goes in vending machines. Children eat over a thousand meals a year but less than 200 of these are in school."

He added: "I am disappointed that the Secretary of State found it necessary to say again that Ofsted will be inspecting the quality of school meals.

"This is just silly. Food inspectors are not asked to inspect the quality of education and education inspectors should not be asked to inspect the quality of food."

Mick Brookes, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said many children and parents would simply bring in packed lunches full of junk food.

"School leaders are heartily sick of having initiative after initiative foisted upon them and then having to allocate the funding and resources from the bottom of a barrel that has, in many cases, already been scraped clean," he said.

But the Professional Association of Teachers welcomed the reforms. Its general secretary, Jean Gemmell, said: "A good diet and good health go hand in hand. We welcome this as an important step to promote healthy eating."

And David Cameron, the Shadow Education Secretary, said he welcomed "this belated u-turn from Ruth Kelly". He said: "At the election ministers rejected Conservative proposals to extend a ban on junk food to vending machines, so this is a positive step. However, tighter standards are only part of the solution.

"They must be backed by sufficient resources for schools to provide the extra staff and kitchen facilities required.

"There are also significant challenges posed by rising numbers of pupils switching to packed lunches or absenting themselves at lunchtimes to buy junk food, and the Government must address this too."

Banned foods are likely to include:

Sweets such as chewing gum, liquorice, mints, fruit pastilles, toffees and marsh mallows
All chocolate products including milk, dark, white and plain chocolate, chocolate eggs, chocolate drops and chocolate biscuits
Snacks such as crisps, tortilla chips, salted nuts, onion rings and rice crackers
Processed meat products high in fat and salt
Permitted foods may include:

Bread products such as crumpets, English muffins, bagels and croissants;
Cakes and biscuits made fresh by school caterers (who can control fat, sugar and salt levels), digestive and ginger nut biscuits, cake bars, iced buns and doughnuts
Fruit yoghurts, Greek yoghurt and other varieties of yoghurt will also be allowed
Dried fruit, unsalted nuts, peanut and raisin mixes and unsalted popcorn.


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