USDA Refuses to Adopt Commercial Alert Junk Food Petition
Commercial Alert is a bit upset the U.S. Department of Agriculture, yesterday, rejected a petition (pdf) asking the government group to enforce its own rules which prohibit public schools from selling "foods of minimal nutritional value," otherwise known as junk food. The petition asked for, among other things, monthly certification by schools that they are abiding by USDA guidelines, annual audits by state agencies to insure guidelines are being followed, adherence to guidelines as a critical area of review for school food authorities, adherence to guidelines an integral part of Food and Nutrition Service review of state agencies and USDA management control over compliance with guidelines.
Commercial Alert Executive Director Gary Ruskin isn't pleased. "It is outrageous that the USDA is refusing to enforce its own rules against selling junk food in public schools. They have turned their back on American children, who are suffering from an epidemic of obesity." While no one is forcefully placing the mouths of children on the dispensing area of vending machines, temptation is hard to resist.
I'm glad you noted the details of Ruskin's proposal. He likes to paint this rejection of the petition as "a major victory" for "the junk food industry" when in fact it sounds to me like a quite reasonable rejection to an overzealous proposal. Monthly certification of every school food authority and annual surprise inspections of every school, both threatening to withold funding in case of violations, is both laudable and impractical.
The National Center for Education Statistics says there were 94,112 public elementary and secondary schools in the US. That's a lot of surprise inspections and certifications per year, along with all the related overhead. Just crunching some gueestimated costs per inspection & certification + administration, this looks like a $275 million dollar proposition annually. AKA, $2.95 per student or a 0.04% increase in the median expenditure per student. (Feel free to crunch your own assumptions)
All this just to make sure vending machines aren't running during breakfast and lunch.
The question then becomes, is this the best solution? If you read the USDA reports to Congress on the matter, you'll see what initiatives are in place, what proposals have been made, and the enforcement mechanisms that the USDA and other groups have requested Congress to put into place.
That's my spin on it anyway.