It is obviously very welcome news that the UK government has finally seen the need to do *something* towards reducing the amount of junk food consumed by children in our schools.
These recent announcements are clearly a step in the right direction - but for schools to provide nutritious lunches even for 50-60p per pupil remains a challenge, and many lack the facilities and staff to do this. Furthermore - if schools lose income as a result of the removal of crisps, chocolate and fizzy drinks from vending machines, will the government increase their budgets correspondingly?
These things remain to be seen, but many other people - particularly parents and health professionals - also need to play their part in changing what has too long been 'A Rotten Way to Feed the Children'.
In collaboration with other groups, FAB Research will not only keep campaigning on this issue - but we will also keep providing the real scientific evidence that food and diet affect not just physical health, but also our behaviour, learning and mood. We consider it scandalous that official dietary standards still take no account of the brain's nutritional needs, because much of the research needed to determine these has simply never been done. With no statutory funding, and because we consider it essential to keep such research free from commercial influences, we rely entirely on voluntary donations to support our work - so please join us if you can.
Foods high in fat, salt or sugar are to be banned from meals and vending machines in English schools.
The ban, from next September, has been announced by Education Secretary Ruth Kelly at the Labour Party conference.
Vending machines in schools will not be allowed to sell chocolates, crisps or fizzy drinks, Ms Kelly announced. The School Meals Review Panel next week will give details of the nutritional standards for ingredients to be allowed in school meals.
Junk food scandal
"I am absolutely clear that the scandal of junk food served every day in school canteens must end," said Ms Kelly. "So today I can announce that we will ban poor quality processed bangers and burgers being served in schools from next September."
The review panel, an expert advisory group, was set up after a campaign to improve school meals by TV chef Jamie Oliver. In response, the government promised extra funding to bring the primary school meal budget up to 50p per pupil per day, with 60p for secondaries - and created the panel to set minimum nutritional standards. These will be introduced from this term - and will become mandatory from September 2006. Monitoring the standards of food served to pupils will be part of the responsibility of Ofsted school inspectors.
Speaking on BBC Breakfast, Ms Kelly said it was "common sense" that some sorts of foods should be excluded from school menus. "For example, meat products that are made from reconstituted meat slurry that bears no resemblance to the original product."
But plans to raise the standard of school food will not benefit pupils in local authorities where there is no school meals service. Shadow education secretary David Cameron said: "We welcome this belated U-turn from Ruth Kelly. At the election ministers rejected Conservative proposals to extend a ban on junk food to vending machines, so this is a positive step."
But tighter standards were only part of the solution. "They must be backed by sufficient resources for schools to provide the extra staff and kitchen facilities required - two crucial elements which are not being met in many schools."
Welsh Education Minister Jane Davidson said: "In Wales we have already set up a new group which will be looking at how to improve the quality and nutritional standards of school meals and to ensure we have a consistent and coherent approach to driving forward improvements in food and nutrition in our schools."
Nutritional standards were introduced a few years ago for meals in Scotland's schools, which typically spend more on ingredients than those in England.
The Northern Ireland School Caterers Association says schools there cook from fresh ingredients and do not rely as heavily on convenience foods as those in England.
As well as presenting plans to improve school food, Ms Kelly also pointed to the priorities of her forthcoming White Paper - including the need for greater parental choice. "Every parent should be able to choose the school that is right for their child. "For too long, access to some schools has only been open to those who could afford to buy an expensive house next to a good school, while the rest were told to accept what they'd been given. There was nothing fair about that approach," she said.
She promised more good schools, improved transport, advice for parents and fair admissions.
And she emphasised the importance of city academies, "working at the heart of our most deprived communities".
FOODS LIKELY TO BE BANNED
Burgers and sausages from 'meat slurry' and 'mechanically recovered meat'. Sweets including chewing gum, liquorice, mints, fruit pastilles, toffees and marsh mallows. Chocolates and chocolate biscuits. Snacks such as crisps, tortilla chips, salted nuts, onion rings and rice crackers.
LIKELY TO BE EXEMPT
Bread products such as crumpets, English muffins, bagels and croissants. Cakes and biscuits made fresh by school caterers, digestive and ginger nut biscuits, cake bars, iced buns and doughnuts. Yoghurts, dried fruit, unsalted nuts, peanut and raisin mixes and unsalted popcorn.