Lawmakers push for unapproved bake, junk food sales

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — State lawmakers are pushing back at new federal regulations prohibiting the sale of junk food and unapproved baked goods during the school day to raise money for field trips and extracurricular activities.

Republican members in the state House and Senate are supporting bills that would allow the sales of cookies, donuts, pop and candy for school group fundraisers in response to U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines prohibiting such sales during school hours.

The Senate Education Committee took testimony Tuesday on a bill sponsored by Sen. Patrick Colbeck that would allow schools to hold up to three “non-compliant” fundraisers a week during normal school hours.

“This is a case where we have the federal government going off and assuming authority that, frankly, in my reading of the Constitution, for example, I don’t see any authority in telling our kids what they should and should not eat,” said Colbeck, R-Canton Township.

Starting this school year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture began banning the sale of snack foods that don’t meet the agency’s “Smart Snacks” nutritional standards as part of the federal Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, an offshoot of first lady Michelle Obama’s efforts to get children to eat better foods.

According to the USDA, students can still take orders for Girl Scout cookies, Boy Scout popcorn, frozen pizzas and cookie dough, but the food has to be consumed at home or after school.

The federal law allowed states to set policies loosening the restrictions on day-time sales and consumption of junk food, but the Michigan Department of Education opted to adopt the USDA guidelines, spokesman Bill DiSessa said.

In the state House, there’s a separate bill that would require the state education department to identify food-based fundraisers that would be exempt from federal nutrition standards and “take any other action as may be necessary” to allow them to take place again.

“The updated school meal standards made clear that states are free to allow fundraisers that don’t meet the healthy standards if they choose,” USDA spokesman Cullen Schwarz said.

The Senate committee took testimony Tuesday from students from Canton Township and Ionia who said the lack of fundraisers is depriving school groups of money needed for field trips and activities outside of their classrooms.

William Talbot, 17, a senior at Ionia High School, said his school’s debate team can no longer sell Krispy Kreme doughnuts during school hours to fund its debate team’s trips to state and national competitions.

Participation in the state debate competition dropped from nearly 25 students to eight this year because students and their families can’t bear the costs without the doughnut sales, Talbot said.

“Senators, these are the real-life impacts that we are seeing from the national school lunch act,” Talbot said. “Alternative fundraisers, they do not work because students don’t want to buy this memorabilia they said we could sell in place of Krispy Kremes. They want the Krispy Kremes.”

Talbot added: “As unhealthy as those may be, they are also successful in accomplishing their goal.”

Statewide school groups representing principals, superintendents and school boards indicated Tuesday they support Colbeck’s bill, though none offered direct testimony during the committee hearing.

A group representing YMCA athletic gyms across the state is opposed to Colbeck’s bill.

“I get to the be guy who testifies against Krispy Kreme, apparently,” said Todd Tennis, a lobbyist for the Michigan State Alliance of YMCAs.

Tennis said the legislation would run counter to public policies seeking to combat the growing “health crisis” of childhood obesity and diabetes.

“We think that it’s not too much to ask to try and have high nutritional standards during school hours,” Tennis said.

Sen. Marty Knollenberg, R-Troy, said he sympathizes with the YMCA’s views on the issue, noting his wife is a nutritionist and that he has a “gluten-free, all-organic” diet.

“I don’t think it’s government’s role, especially the federal government’s role, to dictate this,” Knollenberg told Tennis. “It’s got to come from organizations like your own and others.”

Tennis said the legislation likely would not worsen the childhood obesity epidemic.

“Until we figure out (how to) legislate making things that are bad for us stop tasting so good, we’re going to have a problem,” Tennis said.

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