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Texas Agriculture Commissioner Lifts Ban on Deep Fryers, Soda Machines in Schools

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT News
A decade-old ban on deep fryers in Texas public school cafeterias will be lifted July 1.

Note: This story will be updated as it develops.

Texas public schools can once again can have deep fat fryers and soda machines on campus, starting this fall. Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, who oversees school nutrition policy in Texas, announced Thursday he’s lifting the decade-old ban as part of his new five-point plan to combat childhood obesity. Miller says schools don’t have to put in deep fryers or soda machines.

"We're just saying if you want [a deep fryer], go get one," Miller said in an interview at his office Thursday. "I'd be surprised if there's a dozen schools [that] put in deep fryers. One thing, we're not going to give them any money. They're going to have to go buy those."

For Miller, lifting the ban is about giving local school districts more control.

"We're not going to mandate what you do, we're going to be your partner," Miller said. "We're going to collaborate with you, we're going to educate you. We're going to work with you."

Miller’s plan also includes campaigns to increase awareness about healthy foods and nutrition programs, including a Farm Fresh Friday campaign that would help school cafeterias connect with local farmers to provide fresh food. 

When former Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs banned deep fat fryers in 2004, Miller says there weren't federal mandates in place. 

"At that time when they were first put in, they probably worked. But when the federal government intervened and started [to] put in their mandates on top of the state mandates, it compounded the problem instead of making it better." 

The federal mandates still prohibit sugary drinks, including sodas, in public schools. 

Miller also says the state mandates have not improved childhood obesity rates. According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, childhood obesity in Texas has increased five percentage points between 2004 and 2013. 

"There's so many mandates on these schools and what they can do and cannot do. You just ask anybody, they'll tell you it's not working," Miller says, when asked how the ban on deep fryers and soda machines was not working.

But Miller's plan doesn't include any specific goals to reduce the childhood obesity rate. 

"We have no specifics on it. Number one goal is to slow the obesity rate. Second [goal] is to stop growth of obesity in this state. Number three is to reverse it. And whatever those numbers are are yet to be seen. But those are the three goals. They're very simple, very easy to understand. It's not a complicated mathematical solution. Basically we want to stop the growth and turn around the epidemic of obesity and juvenile diabetes in this state." 

Miller also increased the number of days when schools, sports teams or booster clubs can sell food and drinks during the school day from three to six days per year, and that food does not need to meet federal nutrition standards. Miller says those fundraisers help schools raise money for programming and other needs.  

The new rules go into effect July 1. 


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