Health Ministry left with little input over school food

Outsourcing of food supervision removes ministry control; Health official to Knesset c’tee: Restore responsibility to nutrition experts.

July 7, 2011 01:09
2 minute read.
First grade school children

First grade school children kids class 311. (photo credit: Marc Sellem Israel/The Jerusalem Post)


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The Health Ministry now has almost no input as to the quality and kinds of food sold in school kiosks and served in cafeterias, according to Ze’ev Fisch, the ministry’s national supervisor for environmental health.

Speaking on Tuesday before the Knesset Education Committee, Fisch charged that the ministry had recently lost influence on nutritional conditions in educational institutions because of outsourcing by the Education Ministry.

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“It must be professionals in the fields of health, hygiene and food engineering – regulation and supervision must be the responsibility of the Health Ministry, and not of the Education Ministry or other bodies,” Fisch said.

The Education Committee, chaired by MK Alex Miller, decided to turn to the government for an official definition of Health Ministry responsibility in educational institutions; and to ask the ministry to prohibit the use of E-122 and E-124 synthetic color food additives.

E-122, known as azorubine or carmoisine, is a synthetic red food dye that may be present in jams, preserves, yogurts, bread crumbs, marzipan and other processed foods. Experts recommend it be eliminated from children’s diets as it is suspected of causing hyperactvity.

E-124, also known as ponceau 4R, produces a red/scarlet color. It is usually synthesized from aromatic hydrocarbons from petroleum and may intensify asthma symptoms; in the US and Scandinavia, it is regarded as a carcinogen.

Miller noted that overweight and obesity is becoming common in schoolchildren due to their consumption of cheap processed foods at or near school and in the home. Studies presented at the committee meeting showed that while haredi and Beduin children have a higher rate of underweight, other Jews and Arabs suffer from overweight.

Since 2007, according to the Knesset’s information service, meals provided by some educational institutions to needy (and other) children have been supervised by a private company called Marnemet, rather than by state specialists.

Miller said that Education Ministry supervision of subsidized meals in schools does not cover nutrition, only hygiene or composition of the food, and whether it is suited to the menus set by the Health Ministry.

The committee MKs were told that since 2006, the Education Ministry has been issuing a circular forbidding the sale by school cafeterias, vending machines and kiosks of high-fat, sweet and salty foods such as potato chips, burekas, hot dogs, cakes, cookies and candy, and soft drinks. But these regulations are not enforced, the MKs were told.

Irit Livneh, the Education Ministry’s supervisor of health matters, said school principals have no influence over what is sold in school kiosks – not to mention those outside and nearby – since it is the local authorities, rather than the Health Ministry, that hand out business licenses.

“We are for ministry supervision of what is sold,” said Livneh, “but the government decided otherwise.”

Miller concluded with the committee’s call on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who is formally the health minister, to transfer responsibility for supervising food and nutrition services and sales from the Education Ministry to the Health Ministry. He also demanded that the Education Ministry conduct a survey of schools to find out which institutions observe the regulations, and which do not.

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