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Processed Food “Rebates” Dominate School Cafeterias

Soda manufacturers are not the only ones scheming for a permanent share of your child’s diet. In an article published on La Vida Locavore, Ed Bruske revealed, possibly for the first time, that manufacturers of sugar-laden processed foods pay “rebates” (aka “kickbacks”) to food service companies that serve school districts across the United States.

Bruske obtained documents under the Freedom of Information Act that revealed more than 100 companies paid rebates to Chartwells, a food service management company hired by D.C. Public Schools. As you might suspect, the “rebates” present a conflict of interest that could prompt Chartwells to order food for your children based on the amount of rebate it will receive, versus the food’s nutritional value.

The end result?

School lunches that contain heavily processed foods like muffins, pizza, tator tots and flavored milk in lieu of fresh produce.

According to Bruske:

“Manufacturers pay rebates based on large volume purchases -- literally, cash for placing an order. Rebates are said to be worth billions of dollars to the nation’s food industry, although manufacturers as well as the food service companies who feed millions of the nation’s school children every day -- Chartwells, Sodexo and Aramark -- treat them as a closely-guarded secret.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture requires that food service companies engaged in “cost reimbursable” contracts with schools credit any rebates they receive to their school clients. For more than a year, attorneys for D.C. Public Schools refused to make public an itemized list of rebates collected by Chartwells, claiming the information constituted “trade secrets.” The schools were overruled by Mayor Vincent Gray’s legal counsel after I filed an administrative appeal.

John Carroll, an assistant New York State attorney general investigating rebating practices there, has said rebates pose “an inherent conflict of interest” in school feeding programs because they favor highly processed industrial foods. In cases where schools pay a food service company a flat rate to provide meals, the companies are not required to disclose the rebates they collect. In those cases, Carroll recently told a U.S. Senate Panel, rebates tend to drive up the cost of food, cheating children out of nutrition they might otherwise have on their lunch trays.

Carroll also described cases where rebates discouraged the use of local farm products in school meals. Produce vendors can’t afford to pay a rebate for local apples. But in at least one case, a produce distributor raised the prices of his goods so that he could pay a rebate to a food service company. A Homeland Security sub-committee in the U.S. Senate is investigating possible rebate fraud in contracts across the entire federal government.”

The top contributors to Chatwells’ rebate dollars included Performance Food Group, which paid more than $400,000 over the last three years, followed by General Mills, Kraft Foods, Country Pure Foods and Jenny-O Turkey. Other companies who made the list include:


Otis Spunkmeyer


Coca-Cola, Dr. Pepper, 7-Up




Cargill Meat Solutions

Campbell’s Foodservice

Raising a Life-Long Healthy Eater

Food and beverage companies spend $2 billion a year promoting unhealthy foods to kids, and while ultimately it’s the parents’ responsibility to feed their children healthy foods, junk food ads make this much more difficult than it should be. As a result, the state of most kids’ diets in the United States is not easy to swallow.

As The Interagency Working Group on Foods Marketed to Children (IWG) reported:

• Nearly 40% of children’s diets come from added sugars and unhealthy fats

• Only 21% of youth age 6-19 eat the recommended five or more servings of fruits and vegetables each day

This is a veritable recipe for disease, and is a primary reason why today’s kids are arguably less healthy than many prior generations. Obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure -- these are diseases that once appeared only in middle-age and beyond, but are now impacting children. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that by 2050, one in three U.S. adults will have diabetes -- one of them could be your child if you do not take steps to cancel out the messages junk-food marketers are sending and instead teach them healthy eating habits.

Make no mistake, the advertisers are doing all they can to lure your child in, just as Big Tobacco did generations ago.

So you need to first educate yourself about proper nutrition and the dangers of junk food and processed foods in order to change the food culture of your entire family. To give your child the best start at life, and help instill healthy habits that will last a lifetime, you must lead by example. Children will simply not know which foods are healthy unless you, as a parent, teach it to them first.

My nutrition plan offers a step-by-step guide to feed your family right, and I encourage you to read through it now to learn how to make healthy eating decisions for you and your children.

If you want to get involved on a larger scale, the Prevention Institute’s “We’re Not Buying It” campaign is petitioning President Obama to put voluntary, science-based nutrition guidelines into place for companies that market foods to kids. You can sign this petition now. I also urge you to go a step further and stop supporting the companies that are marketing junk foods and beverages to your children today.

Ideally, you and your family will want to vote with your pocketbook and avoid processed food and sugary sodas while instead choosing unprocessed raw, organic and/or locally grown foods as much as possible. These are the foods your child will thrive on, and it’s important they learn what real, healthy food is right from the get-go. 

This way, when they become tweens and teenagers, they may eat junk food here and there at a friend’s house, but they will return to real food as the foundation of their diet -- and that habit will continue on with them for a lifetime.

Source:  Time Magazine October 24, 2011

Source:  Discovery News October 24, 2011

Source:  La Vida Locavore October 18, 2011

Source:  Injury Prevention October 24, 2011

Story at-a-glance

• The soda industry engages in many of the same marketing tactics as Big Tobacco, including forming “independent” front groups, funding research to discredit links to health problems, and making large donations to health organizations

• Soda is linked to numerous health problems among children and adults, including obesity, liver disease and even violent behavior; frequent soft drink consumption is associated with a 9-15% increase in aggressive behavior, according to new research

• Processed foods and junk foods are heavily marketed to kids and promoted to schools; manufacturers of sugar-laden processed foods pay “rebates” (aka “kickbacks”) to food service companies that serve school districts across the United States

• You can fight back against soda and junk-food giants by purchasing healthy, locally grown organic foods instead of processed foods and beverages


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