At a Capitol Hill news conference yesterday, the beverage industry had the distinct honor of being part of a landmark announcement: a major agreement on national school nutrition standards had been reached between the food and beverage industry and public health and education groups. Oftentimes, these groups may be on opposite sides of an issue, but when it comes to the health and wellness of our nation’s schoolchildren, all are willing to work together for the greater good.
As U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., Chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, stood alongside Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., and representatives from the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Beverage Association, American Cancer Society, American Diabetes Association, American Dietetic Association, American Heart Association, The Coca-Cola Company, Center for Science in the Public Interest, Mars Inc., National PTA, Nestlé and PepsiCo, those in the room could feel the excitement over what has been decades of commitment to bringing school nutrition standards into the 21st century. In fact, during her remarks, Chairman Lincoln compared the build-up to this momentous occasion to someone trying to open a pickle jar. You keep turning and turning the lid - to no avail. Then, all of a sudden, someone else comes along and gives it a turn and voila - the lid comes off. This was a nod to the years of dedication and hard work by Sen. Harkin as former Chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.
ABA President and CEO Susan Neely acknowledged the hard work of Sens. Blanche Lincoln, Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., and Tom Harkin, as well as Reps. George Miller, D-Calif., and Lynn Woolsey, for their bi-partisan leadership on school nutrition. Over the last few years, our industry has worked with these distinguished Members of Congress on child nutrition as it pertains to the vending of beverages in schools. So yesterday was a long time coming - and a notable achievement.
Our industry has long been a leader in school health and wellness. In fact, the beverage industry has spent the past several years implementing national School Beverage Guidelines that remove full-calorie soft drinks from schools across America and replace them with lower-calorie, smaller-portion beverages. This initiative has resulted in 88 percent fewer beverage calories available in schools. As ABA President and CEO Susan Neely stated in a press release issued yesterday, "We believe this standard, which is already implemented and working, provides a strong cornerstone for developing a new federal nutrition standard for all foods and beverages sold in schools."
So we look forward to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's review of all foods and beverages in schools - and to further opportunities to work together to advance nutrition in schools across America. Our School Beverage Guidelines are proof of our commitment to this issue.