Examination of Witnesses (Questions 372-379)
18 SEPTEMBER 2003
Q372 Chairman: Colleagues, may I
welcome you to this meeting of the Committee and apologise for
the slight delay in starting. We are, as you will note, in some
degree of difficulty in terms of our quorum, which is three. I
apologise for that. For a variety of reasons we are very short
on members. But you have the quality here today: you will get
some very intelligent questions, at least from Dr Taylor and Mr
Burns, if not from me. Could I thank you for your cooperation
with the inquiry and for your written evidence, which has been
most helpful. We are most grateful to you. I wonder if I could
ask you each to introduce yourselves briefly to the Committee
and say a little bit about your organisation and the work you
Ms Dalmeny: My name is Kath Dalmeny.
I work for the Food Commission as policy officer. A lot of my
work is to do with marketing to children. We track and monitor
and study marketing to children, looking both at real examples
but also at the kinds of papers that are put around by the industry
discussing the future of marketing to children. I have brought
along today some examples of things that are marketing in schools.
Ms Longfield: I am Jeanette Longfield.
I am the coordinator of Sustain, which is the Alliance for Better
Food and Farming. We do two things specifically around children
and food. One is our Grab 5 project, which promotes fruit and
vegetables to primary school children in low income areas, and
the other is a campaign to protect children against junk food
advertising, which is collecting national organisations to support
Mr Almond: My name is Len Almond
and I am director of British Heart Foundation National Centre
for Physical Activity and Health. I am based at Loughborough University
and British Heart Foundation have charged me to put physical activity
on the health agenda.
Mr Lincoln: My name is Paul Lincoln,
I am Chief Executive of the National Heart Forum. Our organisation
is a national alliance of about 45 national organisations, royal
colleges, health organisations, social policy, dedicated towards
the primary prevention of coronary heart disease.
Mr Osborne: I am Paul Osborne,
the project director for Safe Routes to Schools for Sustrans.
Sustrans is a sustainable transport charity. We find practical
ways of helping people to walk, cycle or use public transport
as an alternative to the car. Safe Routes to Schools is a national
programme where we are working closely with local authorities
and schools, again to seek alternatives for the car for school
Chairman: Thank you very much.
Q373 Dr Taylor: I am ever so sorry
that there are so few of us. I really feel quite embarrassed.
The only reason I am not at Brent East, where everybody else is,
is that there are so many independent candidates there I would
not know which to support! However, we have just been on a fascinating
visit to some of the schools in Leeds and Bradford Bulls rugby
clubs, so we are right in the mood for talking about children
and obesity. The first section is on food, diet and marketing,
so it is mainly to Jeanette and Kath, I think, for the first few
questions. We believe that some schools are given as little as
40 pence per day to feed pupils. What can they do with that?
Ms Longfield: Almost nothing.
You end up with the cheapest of the cheap meat and fish products.
It is very difficult to provide enough fruit and vegetables for
that. You go for absolutely lowest common denominator. It is a
struggle and the people who are involved in school meal services
trying to produce decent food on those budgets find it very depressing
because they want to give better quality.
Q374 Dr Taylor: So it will be the
cheapest nuggets that we hear about being imported.
Ms Longfield: Absolutely.
Q375 Dr Taylor: What sort of numbers
of schools are faced with that problem, that 40 pence?
Ms Longfield: The difficulty is
that the situation is not being monitored centrally, so nobody
has any comprehensive information. It is all very anecdotal. Certainly
some schools will have more money than that; some schools might
evenheaven help ushave less. But part of the problem
is that that kind of data is not collected centrally, it is not
monitored. On the nutritional quality of the meals, even though
there are nutritional standards we have no idea how many schools
are meeting those. There is some research in train currently to
try to find that out, but we do not have the basic data against
which to compare what we are now currently collecting so we do
not know whether it has got better or worse since the guidelines
were introduced. It is all terribly unsatisfactory.
Q376 Dr Taylor: Should one of our
recommendations be that records are kept of how much individual
schools are able to spend?
Ms Longfield: And also what difference
that makes to the quality of the mealsbecause it is perfectly
possible to have a lot of money and still produce rubbish, so
you need to have quality control as well. But, yes, I cannot imagine
anybody in this room could feed themselves adequately for lunch
on 40 pence.
Q377 Chairman: When we were in Leeds
last week, I went to a school and met the lady involved, from
the authority point of view, in the bulk purchase of school meals.
Does your organisation have any views on whether bulk purchasing
arrangements might be a way forward in respect of healthier eating?
Do you have any contact with, collectively, some of these bulk
purchasers? Do you see that some of them are actually making changes
for the better, albeit within the budgetary constraints to which
we have just referred?
Ms Longfield: It is interesting
because some of the contacts we do have with people working on
school meals have been people who have opted out of the bulk contracting
system. They have been extraordinarily successful in taking their
school meal system out of the bulk contracting system altogether
and making their own arrangements. That requires incredible amounts
of motivation and determination and organisation, and really quite
extraordinary individuals to do that, but, where they do do it,
it is very successfuland not only in nutritional terms
but also in terms of buying the produce locally and supporting
the local rural economy and so on. But it is quite difficult to
imagine how you would expect every school to have a remarkable
person or set of people in them like in the projects of which
we are aware. I suppose in the larger context it is going to need
to be some kind of collective arrangement for most schools, simply
because you cannot expect everybody to be that extraordinary.
Q378 Chairman: I think it was Leeds,
but I might be wrong, where we learned about the way in which,
through the bulk purchasing, there is an effort to grow the food
locally and it has been possible actually to show the youngsters
in certain schools the whole process of food production which
has been a learning experience as well as being linked into the
healthy schools agenda.
Ms Longfield: One of the publications
that Sustain has recently produced is precisely on public sector
catering in schools, hospitals and social services and so on,
showing precisely thathow you can set the public sector
contract so that it will not only produce safe food and nutritious
food but also food that is purchased, as far as possible, from
the local area, which supports a local economy. It is not easy
and it would be helpful if there was more money and it would be
helpful if the legislation was less ambiguous and so on and so
forth, but it is still possible to do it, even within current
constraints, given sufficient support, motivation and so on.
Ms Dalmeny: Could I also add something
to that. If you are talking about doing some national audit of
what is going on in school meals, it is important to look at the
total food provision within the school. It is not just about the
school meals, it is also about breakfast clubs, after-school clubs,
vending machines, the kinds of foods that are promoted in sampling
schemesbecause some schools are now participating in commercial
sampling schemes. So it is looking at it as a whole school and
looking not only at the food that is actually being presented
but the message that goes with it to the children about what counts
as a healthy diet.
Dr Taylor: We have some experience with
breakfast clubs. I think each one of us went to a different school
and for 30 pence I had some cornflakes and some extraordinarily
Chairman: He has not told you that he
had bacon and eggs in the hotel beforehand!
Q379 Dr Taylor: I did not. Moving
on to Kath specifically: a parents' panel, what sort of issues
do they raise?
Ms Dalmeny: We run a campaign
called the Parents' Jury which is over 1,500 parents who write
into us about the things that they find problematic about children's
food and children's food marketing, also praising some of the
more positive efforts to promote healthier food to children. A
lot of the things they write in about are things like sponsored
exercise books being given out in the schooland I have
some examples in my box here to show youwith things like
fizzy drinks being promoted directly to children as young as maybe
five/six years old. They feel that is flying under their own parental
control on their message of what counts as healthy food.