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Fish Factor

Campaign to get seafood into the mouths school kids
By Laine Welch


July 03, 2006

Alaska's pollock producers are leading the charge to get more seafood into the mouths of America's school kids. And they're out to prove that children will choose fish items from lunch menus if they are tasty and appealing.

"Our contention is that kids would eat more seafood if they could get high quality products at school," said Pat Shanahan, program director of the industry-formed marketing group Genuine Alaska Pollock Producers, or GAPP. The group also contends that pollock that is caught and processed in Alaska is the key to making products that will score with the kids.

"There is a lot of pollock in the school lunch program, but most is twice frozen, saturated with additives, soggy, and not very appealing or appetizing," said GAPP president Rick Muir. Competing pollock, which comes primarily from Russia, is twice frozen and processed in China, he explained, and the thawing and refreezing affects the inherent flavor, texture and odor of the fish. "Our goal is to show schools that there is a difference," Muir said.

GAPP has so far spent more than $120,000 to bring its message to school menu decision makers. In January the group participated in a Child Nutrition Industry conference in Florida where they provided tastes of kid tested Alaska Fish Tacos, made with pollock in special sauces and condiments created especially for the product.

"We shared results of focus groups from elementary and secondary schools in Seattle, Houston and Virginia Beach, Va. It proved they really liked the idea of a fish taco and that a high quality product was overwhelmingly accepted," Shanahan said. She added that the focus groups also revealed that many children are not offered fish at home.

"School may be the only opportunity they have to try fish and decide whether they will eat it as adults. So we feel it is really important that what they get is really good quality," Shanahan said.

This month GAPP is taking its message - along with more kid tested menu items - to the nation's largest conference of school nutritionists and menu decision makers in Los Angeles. "We're not selling the pollock. We're selling the idea and putting them in touch with the parties that produce the Alaska products. And we're showing them how to source and introduce it in a way that kids will like," added Rick Muir.

GAPP member Trident Seafoods is also advancing the school lunch effort with its kid friendly Ultimate Fish Sticks.

"With obesity and nutrition on the minds of school districts all over the country, the whole mentality in the school industry is ripe for change," said Mike Kater, director of Trident's School and Military Programs. "But we have to be realistic. Many schools are under-funded and might not be able to pay more for better quality. So we have to find a balance of providing tasty seafood products they can afford," he added.

The federally assisted national school lunch program operates in nearly 100,000 public, private and residential institutions. It provides low cost or free lunches to more than 28 million children each school day. At the state level, the lunch program is usually administered by state education agencies which operate through agreements with school food authorities.

According to federal figures, the government spent $16.4 billion to operate its school lunch programs in 2004. Purchases included 19 million pounds of canned tuna, salmon, catfish nuggets and fillets worth nearly $30 million dollars. That sounds like a lot until it is compared to purchases of almost 145 million pounds of beef products worth $181 million dollars, and 150 million pounds of chicken worth $90 million.

On a related note: an eight year study by researchers at the University of Tennessee confirmed that food preferences are established early: eight year olds usually like the same foods they did when they were four, and preferences are often formed as early as age two. In most cases, the parents, particularly mothers, are the gatekeepers of what children eat, the study revealed. An article in Time Magazine titled "Rethinking First Foods" said: "To understand exploding obesity rates among the very young, researchers are looking into the critical period between breast or bottle and the school lunchroom, when lifelong eating habits take shape."

FARTING HERRING FEND OFF WHALES ­ Herring sometimes defend themselves from killer whales "by disappearing under the cover of their own bubbly flatulence," according to a study presented at the recent Acoustical Society of America meeting in Rhode Island. According to Discovery News, the response occurs when Norwegian killer whales slap their tails underwater to disorient and eat the herring. While the whales are often successful, some herring escape.

"The herring bubbles are released through the anal duct when the air expands as the fish ascendIt is very likely that the bubbles will confuse or scare off the predator," the study said. A researcher at the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources added, "This effect would probably be much less significant for one lonely fish than when it is a large school of fish. The air bubbles reflect sound and make it difficult (for the whales) to locate the fish with echolocation."

The study's authors said: "Farting may save their lives."


Laine Welch has been covering news of Alaska's seafood industry since 1988. Her Fish Factor column appears weekly in over a dozen papers and websites. Her Fish Radio programs air on 27 stations across Alaska.

Contact Laine at msfish[AT]

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