DENVER– A school mom can pack that bologna sandwich with mayo in their child’s lunch box, but proponents of Senate Bill 68, which bans the use of trans-fats in public school lunches, hope this bill will dissuade that parent from doing so.
The House Education Committee passed the bill to ban trans-fat in school meals, but opponents weighed in, saying the state bill is unnecessary because the federal government has already implemented and highly publicized its anti-trans fat regulations that take effect in September 2013.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Lucia Guzman (D-Denver) and Rep.Tom Massey (R-Poncha Springs), would require public schools to provide lunches to children that were prepared without trans-fats and extends to foods dispensed in vending machines. The bill has been amended to exclude homemade lunches, and possibly homemade treats for classes.
“Food brought from home would be completely exempt,” said Massey. “As to a class party, I’m going to say that would most likely be exempt. That’s food that was brought by a parent or an outside source.”
Jane Urschel, deputy executive director of the Colorado Association of School Boards, said that their association opposes the bill because there is no funding provided to implement the dietary program, particularly for smaller, rural school districts, and that the bill does not solve the problem of childhood obesity.
In contrast to the state mandate set by this bill, Urschel said that federal dietary guidelines were put out nearly 18 months in advance which allows ample time for schools to adjust their menus and preparations of foods.
Laurie Albright, a member of theBoulder Valley School District, which has already implemented the no trans-fat program, personally opposed the bill. She said most schools in Colorado have already implemented the move away from using trans-fats in foods and toward “from scratch” dishes and serving more fresh fruit and vegetables.
However, she said the bill imposes unfunded mandates for school districts, many of which cannot afford it. Though Boulder Valley School District has already changed their dietary menu to eliminate trans-fats, the meal program is barely breaking even – with the private grants and funding provided for the transition.
To initiate the healthier meal program, Albright said student fees were increased by 20 cents to 30 cents per meal. This may compound the problem for school districts because there are an increased number of children who are eligible for free or reduced cost meals – though federally subsidized – because of the economic recession.
Colorado may be rated as one of the healthiest states in the nation, Massey said, but “Colorado has the highest and growing rate of obesity, particularly among its children.”
He said that children who have high trans-fat diets are propelled into obesity as well as diseases such as diabetes and heart disease that could so easily be prevented by a change in diet.
“You’re going to hear that we’re interring with the personal rights and liberties of parents,” said Massey. “Parents actually have the freedom to provide whatever kind of meals they actually want to should they send their kids to school with lunches.”
“We’re not taking away pizza or French fries away from the kids. There’s just a slight change in in the preparation,” said Massey of those favorite munchies. He said that they will not be fried but offered in a healthier way.
What parents serve to their children at home is fine, but Massey said that Colorado’s public schools will provide the healthiest foods as possible to children.
Jason Morris of the American Heart Association said, “Over the last couple of years we’ve changed from foods that were socially unacceptable from a practical standpoint to foods that are palatable and more acceptable. In serving students, we serve parents as well.”
“Schools have said it’s socially unacceptable (to have trans-fat foods),” said Morris, who added that the bill’s standpoint is mainstream.
“You definitely can’t tell parents what to pack (in lunches or snacks),” said Morris. However, this (bill) sends a message that “makes it socially unacceptable” to give children foods that contain trans-fats.
During an earlier Senate Agricultural Committee hearing, Sen. Kevin Grantham (R-CanonCity) warned that the cost of implementing this ban would be very costly to smaller, rural school districts. He said the state has no business in telling those school districts on what to serve their students.
The House Education committee voted 8-5 for the bill. Republican Reps. Donald Beezely of Broomfield, Chris Holbert of Parker, Janak Joshi of Colorado Springs, Carole Murray of Castle Rock, and Robert Ramirez of Westminster voted against the bill.
The bill moves to the House for a vote of the committee of the whole, and looks likely to pass. The Senate approved the bill earlier this session.