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Thursday, February 6, 2003

Bill Takes Aim at Snack Foods in Schools

By Kate Nash
Journal Capitol Bureau
    SANTA FE Students in New Mexico schools might eat healthier lunches under a bill by Sen. Pete Campos, D-Las Vegas.
    The measure, Senate Bill 468, would prohibit the sale of unhealthy food during lunch unless all profits from those sales go to a school or a school-approved organization.
    Campos, an assistant superintendent at the Las Vegas Public Schools, said he sees too many overweight kids.
    "All I'm saying is we need to take a look at how this (what you eat) affects your well-being," Campos said in an interview Wednesday.
    "We also need to make sure that when a kid is drinking a carbonated beverage first thing in the morning, that that doesn't become a long-term habit," he said.
    What the bill calls "food of minimal nutritional value" is defined as food that provides less than five percent of the federal standard for eight key nutrients: protein, vitamin A, vitamin C, niacin, riboflavin, thiamine, calcium and iron.
    It would be up to the state Board of Education to assess what foods meet the bill's standards, Campos said.
    "I think this will bring to the attention of people that we need to read labels," Campos said.
    The bill says such foods could not be served in a "food service area."
    Rigo Chavez, spokesman for the Albuquerque Public Schools district, said the district doesn't have a position on the bill.
    Under the district's interpretation of current state law, foods that compete with a school's lunch menu are sold outside cafeterias in snack bar areas. The state Board of Education defines a food service area as only the cafeteria, he said.
    "Unless they were to put in a different definition of a food-service area, it might not change much," Chavez said.
    The measure would limit the drinks that can be sold in elementary school vending machines during class hours to water, 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice. Other beverages would be available during after-school events. Teachers' lounges would be exempt.
    The bill has a provision to allow existing vendors who have contracts to sell drinks or beverages products that would be banned to continue those contracts until they expire or until July 1, 2004, whichever comes sooner.
    The bill has not yet been scheduled for a hearing before the House Education or Consumer and Public Affairs Committee.