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Mars, ABA Testify In Support Of National School Nutrition Standards

Posted On: 4/6/2009

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Vending, Vending Machine, Coin-Op, Mars Snackfood US, American Beverage Association, School Nutrition, William J. Clinton Foundation, Hank Izzo, Susan K. Neely, Beverages

WASHINGTON -- Representatives of Mars Snackfood US and the American Beverage Association testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture at a hearing on childhood nutrition to voice support of nationwide school nutrition standards. The hearing was held on March 31.

Mars supported legislation to revise school food nutrition standards so that more nutritious products are available to students nationwide. The current federal nutrition standards for foods sold outside of the school meals programs, including those in vending machines, have not been updated since the late 1970s.

"An updated national school nutrition standard will make it easier for schools and food manufacturers to work together to ensure children make smart decisions about the foods they consume," said Hank Izzo, Ph.D., vice-president of research and development at Mars. "It also will provide some peace of mind to parents, knowing that the products for sale in schools meet nutrition guidelines."

In his testimony, Izzo urged lawmakers to support the 35-10-35 formula that requires snack foods sold in schools to derive no more than 35% of calories from fat, 10% from saturated fat, and have less than 35% sugar by weight.

In 2006, Mars was one of the first five companies to partner with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, a coalition started by the William J. Clinton Foundation and the American Heart Association to empower kids to make healthy lifestyle choices. Mars has worked with the alliance to encourage the adoption of new school nutrition guidelines that follow the 35-10-35 rule. Izzo pointed out during his testimony that Mars developed a new line of healthier products -- Generation Max -- specifically to meet the alliance's guidelines.

At the end of 2007, Mars pledge to voluntarily discontinue advertising and marketing toward children younger than 12, worldwide. Last year, it was the first confectionery company in the world to voluntarily roll out new, easy-to-read and understand nutrition labels.

ABA president and chief executive Susan K. Neely presented the committee with evidence about the efforts underway by the beverage industry to provide more lower-calorie and nutritious beverages in schools. The voluntary School Beverage Guidelines were created in May 2006, in a partnership between Clinton's health alliance and the American Beverage Association, Coca-Cola Co., Dr Pepper Snapple Group (formerly Cadbury Schweppes Americas Beverages) and PepsiCo.

Under the guidelines, beverage offerings are limited to water, milk and 100% juice for elementary and middle school students. High school students are offered more beverage options, but their calories are capped and portion sizes have been reduced. Also, no full-calorie soft drink products are available at any grade level.

"As the mother of two elementary school children, I applaud the committee for holding a hearing on child nutrition, particularly as it relates to programs involving foods and beverages sold in our nation's schools," Neely said. "As a representative of America's beverage industry, I am proud that we are already cutting calories in our nation's schools with the National School Beverage Guidelines, and we want to work with Congress to continue this success."

During her testimony, Neely said that in the two years since the implementation of the national School Beverage Guidelines, there has been a 58% decrease in beverage calories shipped to schools and nearly 80% of schools under contract with bottlers are in full compliance. This puts the industry close to completing its agreement with the Clinton alliance to reach full implementation of the guidelines by the beginning of the next school year.

Neely also reiterated the industry's commitment to working with Congress to ensure that a real-world beverage standard continues to be used in schools across the country. "In 2007, we supported legislation authored by Sens. Harkin and Murkowski that developed a sensible school beverage standard that would teach our kids the importance of a healthy balanced lifestyle. We stand ready to support similar legislation again this year," she stated.