A Health Policy That Would Work. (School Meals)

Article excerpt

Nobody takes much interest in the humble school meal; if people talk about it at all, it is to make jokes about spotted dick and lumpy custard. Yet the school meal ought to be at the forefront of debates about health, well-being and sustainable development.

Why is it that in Welsh farming communities where lamb and beef are the staple products, school menus consist of imported, reconstituted chicken, and all the milk used in the canteen is powdered? Why are so many parents so doubtful of the nutritional quality of the school meal that they give their children packed lunches? The answer lies in the grim and dreary-sounding realms of public procurement policy and EU regulations.

Public procurement managers in the UK insist that EU regulations prohibit explicit "buy local" policies and that this explains why you will so rarely find fresh local food in schools, hospitals and care homes. But this is only technically true. The real problem is the conservative interpretation of these regulations by UK public procurement managers. In Italy, France, Denmark, Sweden, Austria and Germany, public procurement policy helps to get good-quality food for schoolchildren. Their cities and regions design contracts that specify product qualities -- fresh seasonal produce, organic ingredients and so on--which allow them to practise "buy local" policies in all but name.

The benefits are considerable. First, more nutritious school food should help to reduce obesity, heart disease and diabetes. Second, more locally produced school meals would create new markets for local farmers and producers. …