SFT must do better

16 March 2006
SFT must do better

In early March the School Food Trust (SFT) released its first report advising Government ministers on new standards for food in schools other than school lunch.

However, rather than creating specific standards, SFT has simply ring-fenced the School Meals Review Panel nutritional standards for lunch recommendations with a comprehensive ban on snack products. It leaves only fruit and vegetables (in whatever variety) and nuts and seeds as companions to sandwiches, rolls, wraps and baguettes.

The SFT considered that an overall ban would be "clear and easy to understand" and that those foods eaten occasionally should not be part of a child or young person's everyday diet. The intention to prevent obesity spiralling out of control appears to have been reduced to a ham-fisted ploy to bolster the uptake of school lunches as they become increasingly expensive with the implementation of new nutritional standards.

It is important to note that this report considers children in the 4 to 18 age range and most of the case studies are in primary schools. The Automatic Vending Association (AVA) takes great pains to stress that there is no vending in primary schools, and robustly defended this point on a recent Simon Mayo radio show on Five Live.

The secondary school age range for vending is 11-18. Those who are 18 could quite legally go down the pub at lunchtime and all school students are still at liberty to bring in the banned products in their lunchbox from home or purchased from local shops.

It is encouraging to see that vending itself has not been banned. For a long time, the AVA has said that vending is simply a distribution channel through which products may be made available to specific audiences cost-effectively according to their needs and wants. It is this principle that has underpinned its continuing growth and success in many sectors since its early beginnings. AVA's Educated Choice Initiative recommends that products should not be banned but that the whole-school approach should be taken to decide what products should be available to meet the school's needs. School students should be educated in understanding why and how to make choices within a wide repertoire of available food and snacks.

Another area for concern is for those school students with allergies or intolerances. Nuts and seeds, in particular, require control measures as even products with "may contain nut" warnings are taboo in many educational establishments. Branded products provide a reliable point of reference.

The consultation closes on 30 March 2006 and a full regulatory impact assessment (RIA) will be produced to support the final standards for both school lunches and other school food when these are announced in May. AVA will have made a submission on behalf of the industry but remains concerned that although the vending channel remains open, its viability for snacks and food will be in serious question, and this will do precious little to prevent obesity "spiralling out of control".

Jan Podsiadly
Communications manager, AVA

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