Capital Clicks

Is butter better? Bill would ban margarine from school lunches

By: - February 23, 2023 1:31 pm

Margarine would be banned from school lunches under a bill that advanced Thursday in the Iowa House. (Photo via Canva)

Margarine would be banned from school lunches in Iowa under a bill that advanced Thursday from an Iowa House panel.

State Rep. Jeff Shipley is a Republican from Birmingham. (Photo courtesy of the Iowa Legislature)

Rep. Jeff Shipley, R-Birmingham, said he proposed House File 341, which also prohibits hydrogenated vegetable oil as an ingredient in school lunches, because he’s concerned about children’s physical and mental health.

The bill requires the substitution of butter, but allows coconut oil, olive oil or avocado oil “when necessary to accommodate a student’s dietary restrictions.” It advanced from a House Education subcommittee.

“There’s obviously a long history of scientific research, connecting nutrition to positive health outcomes, increased physical performance,” Shipley said. “Trans fats, in particular to the trans fats that are in margarine, hydrogenated soybean oil, have been connected to a lot of adverse health outcomes.”

School representatives opposed the bill, citing the increased cost of butter over margarine and casting doubt on the health benefits of butter compared to margarine.

Emily Piper, representing the Iowa Association of School Boards, cited a study showing that margarine had less saturated fat and less trans fat than butter.  “So I guess if we’re going to make an assumption about whether or not butter or margarine is an oil of choice in a school, we ought to at least be basing it on research to talk about which one was healthier,” she said.

A representative of the dairy industry said she didn’t bring a competing study to show butter is better, but added her support to the bill.

Rep. Molly Buck, D-Ankeny, noted that nutritional health studies often conflict or change over time and said she’d need “a lot more information” about the merits of margarine over butter before she’d support the proposal.

Rep. Brooke Boden, R-Indianola, and subcommittee chair Rep. Heather Hora, R-Washington, agreed to move the bill forward. Boden said she wants to see more nutritional and cost information and questioned whether the issue was best managed at the state level, but added, “Even Michelle Obama said school nutrition is important.”

Hora said she had never known the federal government to do something better than the state. “I don’t know how margarine is made, but I know how butter is made, right? So, when you look at that in a simple form, I don’t know how it couldn’t be better for children.”

The bill moves to the House Education Committee for more debate.

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Kathie Obradovich
Kathie Obradovich

Editor Kathie Obradovich has been covering Iowa government and politics for more than 30 years, most recently as political columnist and opinion editor for the Des Moines Register. She previously covered the Iowa Statehouse for 10 years for newspapers in Davenport, Waterloo, Sioux City, Mason City and Muscatine.