'Unhealthy food is being sold at schools by unlicensed vendors'

Procedures for monitoring vendors in schools are not comprehensive, the Knesset Education Committee discovered Tuesday. As a result, many unhealthy foods and snacks are offered in direct contravention of the Education Ministry's directives. "I am surprised that we have to have a discussion about this, since I thought the government ministries were taking care of it," Committee Chair Michael Melchior (Labor-Meimad) commented at the beginning of the session. Zeev Fish, the Health Ministry's national environmental health inspector, explained that the primary responsibility for inspecting food vendors in schools lies with the local authorities. For the most part, they issue the business licenses and are responsible for follow-up inspections, he said. Only in certain cases, where more substantial food is prepared, does the Health Ministry step in, he explained. Representatives of the Union of Local Authorities in Israel missed the meeting because of a technical mix-up. Fish said the ministry had carried out 290 inspections this past year. Of the businesses inspected, 20 had to be closed immediately and another 20 required improvement. He said the ministry had received some 200 requests for licenses last year, as well. However, that is a small fraction of the over 4,000 schools across the country, many of which serve food, it was pointed out. Representatives of The Israeli Consumers Council told the committee that a survey of 13 schools around the country found that every one of them was in violation of the Education Ministry's food service directives. Avi Gur of the Parents Forum stressed another result of outside vendors taking over food services in schools. "Prices have increased dramatically. A sandwich that cost NIS 2 now costs NIS 4," he said. Multiply that by about 180 days, and that's an extra NIS 1,000 for which parents have to pay, he said. Gur told The Jerusalem Post after the meeting that according to their information, many of the vendors did not have licenses at all. Fish also reiterated his willingness to bring the entire licensing and inspection process under the Health Ministry's wing. Melchior suggested that until the situation could be sorted, principals and teachers take it upon themselves to oversee food distribution. He also said the committee would work to pass a law on this issue. He gave the Education Ministry until June 1 to figure out an effective way to oversee all school food vendors.