Mon, Jan 02, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Rome's schools setting a good example

THE OBSERVER , LONDON

There was national outrage in the UK when the Soil Association revealed that the average cost of ingredients in a British child's school dinner was just ?0.37 (US$0.64).

Since then, school meals have become central to the association's campaigning. It says that children are most vulnerable to the health impacts of intensively farmed food, and that the public sector could do more to promote sustainable practices.

The Soil Association wants schools to use local and organic produce. The model it is promoting is Rome. Since 2000 there have been huge changes in school meals policy in Italy, even in a country long known for its love of good cooking. First, organic fruit, vegetables, eggs, tinned tomatoes and cereals were introduced. By last year nearly all food served in schools was supposed to be organic, while fried, frozen and genetically-modified foods had been banned.

The only current exceptions are bananas and chocolate, which should be Fairtrade, and meat, which is sourced from extensively reared national breeds. Traditional local recipes and seasonality are key features of the new regime, so that food can be produced locally.

Every day 140,000 mostly organic three-course meals are fed to Roman schoolchildren. The scheme has raised the average cost of a meal by 0.54 euros (US$0.63) to 6.23 euros (US$7.38). On average, parents pay 2 euros a day; the rest is paid by city authorities.

From age two to 14, pupils must sit at round tables, with crockery and silverware, where they are served to make sure the food is hot. Children cannot bring snacks to school.

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