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Bill to ensure better nourished children

My ‘Food in Schools Bill’ is due to come up for debate in Parliament.

Since writing it, I have visited many schools that have clarified my thinking.

I would like to see a ‘Garden to Table’ Programme (children growing their own food and preparing it with the help of community volunteers) to be made available to poorer communities.

I visited a Decile Two school recently. Children were having vegetarian pizza for lunch, with salad and banana muffins made with honey from their own beehives and eggs from their own chicken.

Not only were they eating great nourishing food and having fun, they were also learning skills for life.

I would like to see such programmes offered in every low-Decile school, and I will be pushing to have this added to my bill.

Before coming into politics, I ran huge feeding programmes for starving children, including one for 30,000 children in Somalia. Without that food, those children would have died.

But the Programme was always designed to be temporary. As soon as the crisis passed, the families moved on, relying on themselves.

Diseases risk

My fear is that we will institutionalise dependence through relying solely on a feeding programme. We need to be far more forward-looking.

New Zealand has 270,000 children in poverty and the fourth highest obesity rate in the Western world. Consequences of this are serious: iron deficiency (anaemia), cellulitis, impetigo, kidney and bone disease, infections and pneumonia.

Research tells us that if you can lift educational achievement across the population even just fractionally, it pays huge dividends economically.

New Zealands future success depends on us succeeding in keeping our poor children fed with nutritious food and engaged at school.

Other countries have seen Food in Schools Programmes pay for themselves in this way and we will be able to measure our success by monitoring hospital admissions, school attendance and academic achievement.

I want to see parents and communities empowered to look after their children instead of depending on a government feeding scheme. We should be working towards such an objective.

David Shearer is an elected Member of Parliament from Mt Albert Constituency and Labour Party spokesman for Foreign Affairs and Energy.

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