Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Food in Schools Bingo

And the winner is......the Food and Grocery Council.

National has finally been shamed into doing something about the fact that many kids in New Zealand are turning up to school hungry. The Children's Commissioner's recommendation for food in schools and the evident (even to National) public support for Mana's Feed the Kids Bill meant that the problem couldn't be ignored. Despite blathering about opportunity opportunistically during the 2008 election, nothing National has done since coming to office has alleviated the problem of kids going hungry. Indeed, National's enthusiasm for not signing people up to benefits or kicking them off for some real or imagined transgression means that more kids are likely to be going without.

So finally buckling under pressure, today comes the announcement that National will partner with a couple of large corporates to provide food in schools for the needy. Signalling its reluctance to anything but the minimum, the government has budgeted $9.5 million over 5 years to support food in schools. Note this is the same government that found $19 million to fund charter schools, and has no end of cash to throw at the Novopay system. 

In a move "commended" by the Food and Grocery Council the government has announced it will stump up half(!!) the money required for a 5 year programme to enable Fonterra and Sanitarium to roll out the KickStart programme from 2 days per week to 5. This opportunity to market to the next generation of consumers has been whitewashed by the government as harnessing the energy of the corporate sector. From the Food and Grocery Council, here's the list of corporates that have been energised into feeding these impressionable young consumers:
  • George Weston Foods, the makers of Tip Top Bread. GWF are an Australian company. Their website features a lot of well-dressed, well fed white people.
  • Goodman Fielder, another bread supplier. Advertises itself as Australasia's largest food manufacturer.
  • Tasti products. Based in Te Atatu, manufacturers of fatty snack bars.
  • Abe's Bagels. OK, they're a cool NZ company and bagels are one of our favourite breakfast foods.
  • Harroways. Another New Zealand company specialising in oatmeal products.
  • Then we get to the rather less likeable multi-nationals including GlaxoSmithKline, the makers of Ribena, found to have falsely claimed higher levels of Vitamin C in Ribena than actually existed; Nestles. Still getting caught up in baby formula scandals, Nestle have also been sprung putting palm oil in chocolate and using horsemeat in their pre-cooked meals; and Colgate-Palmolive, another prodigious user of palm oil.
The argument is that if kids are getting fed it's OK. Well the problem is the devil is in the detail, and we have no detail. Is delivery going to be consistent across the whole country? Is food going to be available to all-comers in decile 1-4 schools as is currently the case with breakfast programmes? What nutritional standards will be put in place to ensure kids aren't fed sugary, fatty junk? And what happens when one of these corporates decides they'd rather sponsor a TV cooking programme, which they are perfectly entitled to do.

All in all, this is a lame and cheap response to a serious issue. It shows once again that National has no vision about what sort of country New Zealand could be in 20 years time, and has no clue about anything aside from paying back its corporate political supporters. It's the policy equivalent of a packet of crisps - the packing is more substantial than anything inside.