Sugar Industry Gains More Control Of Florida Student Lunches

Our guest blogger is Aubrey Murray, a press intern at the Center for American Progress.

Yesterday, Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) signed the “Healthy Schools, Healthy Lives” Act into law after near-unanimous passage in the House and Senate. Under the legislation, the administration of nutrition in Florida schools will transfer from the Board of Education to the Department of Agriculture in time for the new school year. The measure passed despite a report by the Office of Program Policy and Government Accountability, which found “no compelling reason to change the current structure of Florida’s school nutrition programs”.

The man now in charge of student lunches is Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. Putnam’s 2010 campaign received major funding from the sugar industry, and he will likely keep his sugar pals close. Putnam installed sugar magnate Tracy Duda Chapman to his transition team in December, and upon formally taking office, he drafted a letter to the Board of Education effectively halting their decision to ban sugary drinks in schools. Putnam argued the ban was incongruent with “a comprehensive look at current school foodservice offerings.” As a result, Florida schools still offer sugary drinks to their students even as 33 percent of Florida schoolchildren are overweight or obese, compared to 31 percent nationwide.

The absence of a moderating force to represent student interests in the exchange between farms and cafeterias could prove detrimental to childhood nutrition. Members of the Board of Education spoke out against the bill: “It’s the mission of the Department of Agriculture to protect the agriculture industry. It’s the mission of the Department of Education to protect children. Inherent in your bill is a conflict,” said a board member appointed by Jeb Bush in a statement to the Miami Herald. The new law also establishes a Healthy Schools for Healthy Lives Council and allows the commissioner to appoint 11 of its members.

And so it looks as though the sugar industry’s investment in Putnam paid off. Florida’s students will soon have lunches subjected to the whims of the agriculture market instead of their nutritional needs.