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Connecticut Senate votes to ban school soda sales

By Lorraine Heller , 26-Apr-2006

The nationwide initiative to improve school nutrition is gathering momentum, with Connecticut becoming the next in line to pass legislation aimed at reducing childhood obesity.

The State Senate on Thursday approved legislation banning the sale of soda in Connecticut schools.

The bill, which is now due to be voted on in the House of Representatives, would restrict the types of beverages sold in schools to include products such as 100 percent fruit juice, milk, which may be flavored but must contain no more than 4g of sugar per ounce, and water, which may also be flavored but must contain no added sugars or sweeteners.

The proposed bill would also provide incentives for schools to sell healthy food and snacks in accordance with guidelines set by the Department of Education. The schools that comply with the guidelines would be eligible for more financial resources to improve the quality of their school lunches.

"I've been working on school nutrition legislation for several years, and I'm certain this bill will give Connecticut a leadership role in promoting nutritional health for our school children," said Senator Joseph Crisco, who co-sponsored the bill.

"We've heard that we should leave it up to local school boards, but I don't read about local boards rushing to take care of the school nutrition issue."

A school nutrition bill introduced by the State Senate last year was vetoed by Governor Jodi Rell on the grounds that it undermined the control and responsibility of parents.

At the time, State Senate president Pro Tem Donald Williams, who had sponsored the legislation, estimated that soft drink and vending companies spent more than $250,000 lobbying against the bill out of concern that it would set a national precedent.

Senator Williams last week said he is pleased with the victory of the new bill in the Senate, but that he "fully expects the lobbyists for the huge soda companies to launch an all-out assault on House members in an attempt to kill the measure in that chamber."

According to the Senator, the school nutrition debate has been marked by an "extensive and coordinated misinformation campaign," undertaken by these "lobbyists."

"We have the facts and the overwhelming scientific evidence on our side, and we will continue to do everything we can to get this information out," he added.

Indeed, earlier this month Senator Williams accused the Coca-Cola Company of providing greater financial incentives to push sugary sodas on Connecticut school children at the expense of water and fruit juice drinks that it also owns and markets.

Speaking at a press conference on April 6, the Senator cited the beverage sale contracts between Coca-Cola and the Southington and Bridgeport Public Schools showing the sales commissions the schools get for the sale of soda are at least 25 percent higher for soda than for other drinks the company sells, such as bottled water.

He claimed that in the Southington contract, the high school gets 45 percent of the soda sales and 36 percent of all other sales. In Bridgeport, the figure is 38 percent for soda and 30 percent for all other beverages.

Attorney General Blumenthal, who supported the Senator, said his office "will look into just how Coca-Cola uses its so-called 'scholarship' money and the source of that money."

This is just another indication that the pressure on the food and beverage industries is unlikely to abate, as moves are increasingly undertaken- both in individual states and nationally- to improve school nutrition.

In recent weeks a proposal by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) to ban schools from selling junk food and soda was blocked by a legislative committee on the grounds that it does not provide a "total approach" to child nutrition. However, the ISBE said it has no plans to back down as it prepares to submit a revised proposal.

And earlier this month a bill was introduced in Congress proposing a radical overhaul of the nutritional standards for foods sold in schools.

Introduced by a group of senators and representatives, the new bill- the Child Nutrition Promotion and School Lunch Protection Act of 2006- aims to revise the current definition of 'foods of minimal nutritional value' that are permitted for sale in schools in order to conform to current nutrition science.

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