From January 2017, selling and/or advertising chips, soft drinks or mayonnaise-filled sandwiches to children in schools will be illegal.
The new legislation is the result of an ongoing debate on the growing number of obese children in the Czech Republic. According to the latest statistics, every third child in the country is obese. The Czech Republic has therefore finally decided to follow global and European trends in implementing specific regulations aimed at combating questionable eating habits among children and adolescents.
The idea of regulating the sale and advertising of unhealthy foods and beverages in schools was first introduced by an amendment to Act No. 561/2004 Coll., the Schools and Education Act (the "Schools Act"), which came into effect on 1 September 2015. Section 32 of the amendment provides for a general ban on "advertising and the sale of foods that are contrary to the requirements of healthy nutrition of children, pupils and students." The Schools Act did not further elaborate on the specific rules and requirements to be met in order to comply with this prohibition. Instead, this was left for implementation through governmental regulation, which, however, was not adopted until September 2016.
Regulation No. 282/2016 Coll., on Requirements for Foods, the Sale and Advertising of which will be Permitted at Schools (the "Regulation"), which entered into force on 20 September 2016 specifies:
- which foods (including beverages) are/are not allowed to be sold and/or advertised in schools and other school facilities;
- a list of ingredients and foodstuffs that must not/may be contained in foods and beverages sold or advertised at schools;
- exceptions from the prohibition on the sale/advertising of banned foods;
- transitional periods for the sale or advertising of foods or beverages that do not meet the requirements laid down by the Regulation.
What's allowed and what isn't?
Effective as of 1 January 2017, only foods that comply with the requirements of the Regulation (as specified in its Annex 1) and that:
- do not contain sweeteners, except for sugar-free chewing gums or caffeine, except for tea or non-alcoholic beverages with tea extracts;
- do not contain trans-fatty acids coming from partially hydrogenated fats; or
- are not energy or stimulating beverages or foods designated for athletes or persons with increased physical performance
may be sold, offered for sale and advertised in schools and schools facilities, also in addition to:
- unprocessed fruits and vegetables;
- fruit and vegetable juices and nectars without added sugar (added sugar include, eg molasses, honey, syrups and others).
Annex 1 to the Regulation specifies limits of salt, fat and sugar that may be contained in different categories of products, such as fruit products, nuts, dairy and meat products, including fish, pastry, readymade snacks and foods (eg sandwiches), non-alcoholic beverages and others.
In addition, foods sold at schools must not contain ketchups, mustards, dressings and mayonnaise. Additional requirements are in place regarding grain products and readymade foods (eg minimum required amounts of wholegrain flour, minimum ratio of proteins or vegetables in readymade food snacks, etc).
Exceptions from the ban
Section 3 of the Regulation provides for exceptions from the prohibition on sale of foods that do not meet the requirements of the Regulation. These exceptions apply to the sale, or offering for sale:
- in premises where only education of students/pupils having passed the compulsory school attendance period (elementary school) takes place;
- in premises that are reserved exclusively for adults and to which children or pupils having compulsory school attendance do not have permanent access;
- in connection with practical trainings; and
- in relation to activities that take place outside the carrying out of education or schooling services.
In relation to dairy products eligible for subsidies according to special legislation, the effective date regarding compliance of such dairy products with the requirements of the Regulation has been suspended until 1 August 2017.
As research and statistics have shown, the ease of obtaining available foods containing large volumes of salt, sugar and sweeteners, fat and other nutritionally poor foods, are one of the key factors leading to incorrect eating habits among children. The question is, however, whether the new and somewhat belated legislation is sufficient. The various exceptions to the ban still seem a little too vague and easy to abuse.