(Dec. 7) Putting junk food out of schools and bringing more fruits and vegetables in could be one result of an amendment Sen. Tom Harkin wants to attach to the farm bill.

On Dec. 4, Harkin, D-Iowa., and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, announced plans to sponsor an amendment to the pending Senate farm bill to update decades-old nutrition standards in schools.

The amendment was crafted after months of negotiation with nutrition advocates and the food and beverage industry, Harkin said in a Dec. 4 statement.

The amendment will define school nutrition standards for foods and beverages offered in school vending machines, school stores and other venues outside of the school meal programs, according to a news release from Harkin’s office.

The amendment, in establishing a federal standard, would pre-empt any state nutrition standards already in place.

That clause has disturbed some nutrition advocates, but backers say two-thirds of states don’t have meaningful nutrition standards currently in place.

“I think it is very good for fruits and vegetables, because a lot of fruits and vegetables meet the standards, and it will reduce the competition for fruits and vegetables as a snack,” said Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Washington, D.C. based Center for Science in the Public Interest.

While a fruit cup may not be picked over a candy bar by a middle school child, taking away that candy bar entirely would make the fruit cup much more attractive.

Wootan was involved in negotiating terms of the regulation industry leaders from Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Mars. Wootan said the standards allow only sales of juice, water and low-fat milk in elementary and middle schools. The amendment would allow only low-calorie beverages at high schools, with exceptions for vending machines in athletic areas. The standards also limit sales of snacks with above certain calorie, saturated fat, sodium and trans fat limits that would end sales of candy bars and other snacks with little nutritional value.

“I would not have imagined that we would be cooperating on a bill to improve school food with Coke and Pepsi and Mars, but thinking about school foods has changed, and people recognize that schools are unique places,” Wootan said.