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Soft Drink Makers Back Federal Rules

Soft Drink Makers Back Federal Rules

Sept. 14, 2007 ? After years of opposition, soda and soft drinkmanufacturers are now backing efforts for new federal rules restricting snacksand sugary drinks in schools, an industry representative says.

The shift comes as lawmakers in Washington prepare to debate a proposaltouted by supporters as a step toward stemming rising rates of childhoodobesity. The bill would force the government to update 35-year-old nutritionstandards that allow the sale of sodas and low-nutrition snack food in vendingmachines and at a la carte counters.

Major soft drink manufacturers agreed last spring to a voluntary deal thattakes sugared sodas and other drinks out of elementary and middle schools. Butfor years it has opposed efforts to make new standards part of nationallaw.

The industry is no longer opposing a new national standard, said SusanNeely, president of the American Beverage Association, the trade grouprepresenting Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and other drink makers. The reason for theshift, she suggested, is that the nutritional requirements are unlikely to bemuch stricter than voluntary standards already endorsed by the industry.

��We are moving full-caloried soft drinks out of the nation��s schools,�� Neelytold reporters at a forum on the new proposals Friday. ��It is basically a defacto national standard.��

Congressional Debate

A Senate committee is scheduled to begin debate on the standards early thisfall. The rule would force the Department of Agriculture to bring nutritionguidelines for vending machines, snack counters, and other points of sale inline with those governing school lunches.

��In essence the framework is the same,�� Neely said, referring to theproposed law and the voluntary standards being put in place by the industry.The standards restrict elementary and middle school vending machines and snackcounters to selling milk, juice, and water.

The industry and lawmakers have not agreed on sales of higher-calorie softdrinks and sports drinks in high schools, she said.

"Discussions between our staff and the beverage industry on this effortare ongoing and we are hopeful to reach resolution, but we are not thereyet," says Kate Cyrul, spokeswoman for Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa). Heis?the main proponent of new laws regulating snack food in schools.

At least 17 states have nutrition standards for food sold in schools, whileseveral more are considering new rules, according to the National Conference ofState Legislatures.

Margo Wootan, nutrition policy director at the Center for Science in thePublic Interest, the main group pushing for new standards, says schoolnutrition is a problem that should be addressed in Washington.

��Congress shouldn��t pass the buck on childhood obesity,�� she says.

Agriculture legislation that passed the House in July did not include anupdate to school nutrition standards.

(How nutritious are the lunchesat your child��s school?

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