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No fizzy drink ban -- they pay for schools

FIZZY drinks might be bad for our children but they are helping to fund our schools.

Any plans to ban sugary drinks from school vending machines would face stiff opposition -- because the cash strapped schools need the money.

A special health group recommended a tax hike on fizzy drinks instead.

Secondary schools around the country earn up to €1.3m a year from food and drink vending machines, it has emerged.

The high-level group decided not to recommend a ban, as hundreds of schools could not afford to lose the extra money earned from them.



Unhealthy

Schools will receive a capitation grant of just €317 per pupil this year and need to supplement this.

Vending companies pay schools up to €4,000 a year to keep machines which stock fizzy drinks and junk food. It's estimated more than 320 of the country's 729 second-level schools have vending machines.

The Special Action Group on Obesity didn't recommend a ban despite finding that vending machines are a "key source of unhealthy food and drinks."

The group appointed by Health Minister James Reilly contained Government officials and experts from hospitals, Safefood and the Food Safety Authority.

The group described vending machines as "a valuable source of revenue" for schools.

Their recommendation is another blow to Dr Reilly's campaign to tackle obesity among children and adults.

Head of consumer foods at IBEC Shane Dempsey said the industry is signed up to a voluntary code to ensure machines stock healthy options.

The code includes a ban on king-size packets. It also prohibits the installing vending machines in primary schools.

Health officials have commissioned an independent health study to confirm the benefit of the extra tax on soft drinks in cutting consumption.

Dr Reilly's agenda to encourage healthier lifestyles has been met with several other setbacks.

His bid to introduce an extra half hour of physical education was ruled out because Ireland already has a longer school day than many other EU countries and his calorie-counted menu plan is under fire from chefs.

hnews@herald.ie