The continued rise in commodity prices over the past years has taken a toll on most Taiwanese’s quality of life, but now it could also affect the nutritional status of young children as many school meal providers are tempted to increase lunch prices or reduce portion sizes to stay afloat.
The price of a public school lunch is decided by school commissions and agreed upon by parents’ associations before being sent to a local government education department for approval.
The contracts signed between schools and meal providers tend to be for one year, which means the meal prices can be renegotiated only after extant contracts expire.
However, that restraint does not stop consideration of lunch price hikes in most parts of the nation.
In Taipei, about 28 public elementary and junior-high schools are considering a 10 percent increase in the price of lunch for the next academic year, in a plan supported by the majority of parents who responded to a questionnaire from the Taipei City Government’s Department of Education earlier this month.
“Many school meal providers have complained that it is too difficult to maintain the current price without sacrificing the quality of their foods. After weighing the pros and cons, most parents whose children are studying in the 28 schools said they supported a minor price hike,” Department of Education Director Lin Yi-hua (林奕華) said.
In New Taipei City, many meal providers said lunch prices have left them with little profit margin and have repeatedly demanded a price increase.
However, the city’s Education Bureau has said its primary goal is to prevent price hikes and that exceptions are possible only for schools where meals are priced “unreasonably” low, without clarification.
A school principal in the city, who requested anonymity, said price increases have always been a sensitive issue, particularly in an election year, and that no school would dare to approve one without the city government’s consent.
In Greater Kaohsiung, schools have reportedly been told about the possibility of not being able to find any food service providers in the future, if commodity prices continue to climb.
To prevent that possibility and to ensure the quality of school meals, Greater Kaohsiung Education Bureau Director-General Cheng Hsin-hui (鄭新輝) said the city government plans to revise pricing standards for school lunches based on the nation’s consumer price index.
In other parts of the nation, 11 Yunlin County schools raised the price of school meals per month and per student by NT$50 to NT$100 (US$1.70 to US$3.30) last month.
The Hsinchu City Government has entrusted Chung Hua University to determine a reasonable price for school meals, while the Taitung County Government is discussing the feasibility of price hikes.
Taipei City Boxed Food Association Director-General Wang Pai-ching (王派清), who is also the owner of a food service company, said his company used to make NT$3 to NT$4 from providing a meal to a student, but these days it only makes NT$2.
“No price hike has been made to school lunch in the city for the past decade. If the price freeze continues, most meal providers will be forced to be run at a loss,” Wang said.
Consumers’ Foundation secretary-general Lei Li-fen (雷立芬) echoed Wang’s opinions, saying that the price freeze could prompt more lunch providers to use lesser-quality foods and that schools should seek a win-win situation by establishing a well-designed price monitoring and negotiation mechanism.