Prepared Foods October 3, 2005 e-newsletter

Schools in the U.K. will be banned from selling junk food from vending machines beginning next September, said education secretary Ruth Kelly. She told delegates at the annual Labour Party conference the ban will also apply to “low-quality” fast food served in school canteens.

“I am absolutely clear that the scandal of junk food served every day in school canteens must end,” Kelly said.

“So today, I can announce that we will ban poor-quality processed bangers (fat sausages) and burgers 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 [chips], chocolates or sugary fizzy drinks.”

Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver launched a high-profile campaign earlier this year against the quality of school food which prompted the government into providing a further 280 million pounds ($491 million) for meals.

Oliver's program revealed that some schools spend as little as 37p ($0.65) per meal.

Minimum nutritional standards will be introduced alongside the ban next year.

Earlier this year, the food industry came under a scathing attack from a parliamentary committee for promoting unhealthy eating among children and contributing to an obesity problem that costs the U.K. an estimated 3.7 billion pounds ($6.5 billion) a year.

The Health select committee said healthy eating messages from the government to children were undermined if education authorities allow them to be “exposed to sponsorship messages from unhealthy food manufacturers and given access to vending machines selling unhealthy products.”

This contrasted with a school lunch the committee members sampled in Finland, where children had no other option but a “filling, healthy lunch” with a salad but no pudding and only milk or water to drink.

Denmark, Canada, Belgium and the Netherlands have various restrictions against junk food advertisements on television during children's programs.

The committee found many food advertising campaigns in the U.K. were aimed at motivating children to “pester” their parents into buying the product, despite an advertising industry code that bans such practice.

A 710,000-pound ($1.2 million) product campaign for chip manufacturer Walkers was cited as one example of this practice that had been passed by the Advertising Standards Authority.

Investigation by the committee also found an advertising client brief for a McDonald's Happy Meal campaign -- where a toy was part of the package -- made it clear that the aim of some promotions was to get children to believe they had to have the meal to get the toy.

This investigation also revealed that to collect all 98 toys available over a year, a child would have to eat one of the meals every 3.7 days.

The parliament members contended the industry had repeatedly said it is keen to contribute to a solution, but warned that the government should “name and shame” those firms that indulge in product placement of unhealthy foods, such as placing confectionery at supermarket checkouts or selling “super-sized” portions of junk food.

They added that while voluntary regulation should be adopted in the short term, the government should move to legislation within three years if this has not worked.