Thursday, August 18, 2005

Food Politics

This is a long one, but full of good info.

This following articles were taken from and respectively. They basically echo the same things I have said in earlier posts--that our healthcare system is in shambles, that one great way to help repair that system is to have a healthier population that requires less medical care, and that the means with which to achieve a healthier population are being supressed due to pressure from large corporations. I'm not advocating eliminating unhealthy food, but simply creating a well informed public.


"Of all forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.”-- Martin Luther King, Jr.

  • In the past 20 years the U.S. has gone from first in the world for life expectancy to 19th in the world for women, and 29th for men (behind Slovenia).
  • The U.S. has the most expensive health care in the world, which the majority of its citizens cannot afford. We are the only country in the developed world, other than South Africa, which doesn't provide health care for all of its citizens.
  • Chronic disease in the U.S. has an excessive impact on minorities and the poor, with rates of cancer, arthritis, coronary heart disease, stroke and hypertension nearly double in African Americans than in the white population.
  • Costly illnesses trigger about half of all personal bankruptcies, and most of those who go bankrupt because of medical problems have health insurance, according to findings from a Harvard University study released in February 2005. The U.S. Congress and President Bush recently signed legislation making it nearly impossible for individuals to declare bankruptcy due to medical bills.

Unless you are one of the fortunate few who profit from the U.S. health system (because you own a multi-national drug company or a chain of for-profit hospitals), the U.S. health care system is in shambles. Today we spend more than ever, get less care, and we're getting sicker. And the U.S. government is complicit in this outrage against its citizens, not merely because it favors profiteers over people - but because information which could save lives is being actively suppressed by our politicians.

Professor Marion Nestle PhD M.P.H. is Chair of the Department of Nutrition and Food Studies at New York University. She managed the editorial production of the first, and as yet only, Surgeon General's Report on Nutrition and Health in 1989. In her book "Food Politics", Nestle says that on her first day on the job, "I was given the rules: No matter what the research indicated, the report could not recommend 'eat less meat' . . . because the (meat producers, whose bottom line) might be affected by such advice would complain to their beneficiaries in Congress, and the report would never be published."

No subsequent Surgeon General's Report has appeared, even though Congress passed a law in 1990 requiring that one be issued every two years. Why? The answer, according to Nestle, is food politics. She points out that "saturated fat and trans-saturated fat raise risks for heart disease, and the principal sources of such fats in American diets are meat, dairy, cooking fats, and fried, fast, and processed foods." Any advice of federal policies that sought to decrease consumption of these foods would cause the sellers of these foods "to complain to their friends in Congress," who would in turn prevent the report from being released to the public.

The fact is, many people today are getting sick with largely preventable diseases, diseases which can not only be prevented but reversed through a change in diet and lifestyle. Food companies -- and the politicians they own -- don't want people to get this information.


In recent months the major food companies have been trying hard to convince Americans that they feel the pain of our expanding waistlines, especially when it comes to kids. Kraft announced it would no longer market Oreos to younger children, McDonald's promoted itself as a salad producer and Coca-Cola said it won't advertise to kids under 12.

But behind the scenes it's hardball as usual, with the junk food giants pushing the Bush Administration to defend their interests. The recent conflict over what America eats, and the way the government promotes food, is a disturbing example of how in Bush's America corporate interests trump public health, public opinion and plain old common sense. The latest salvo in the war on added sugar and fat came July 14- 15, when the Federal Trade Commission held hearings on childhood obesity and food marketing. Despite the fanfare, industry had no cause for concern; FTC chair Deborah Majoras had declared beforehand that the commission will do absolutely nothing to stop the rising flood of junk food advertising to children.

In June the Department of Agriculture denied a request from our group Commercial Alert to enforce existing rules forbidding mealtime sales in school cafeterias of "foods of minimal nutritional value" -- i.e., junk foods and soda pop. The department admitted that it didn't know whether schools are complying with the rules, but, frankly, it doesn't give a damn. "At this time, we do not intend to undertake the activities or measures recommended in your petition," wrote Stanley Garnett, head of the USDA's Child Nutrition Division.

Conflict about junk food has intensified since late 2001, when a Surgeon General's report called obesity an "epidemic." Since that time, the White House has repeatedly weighed in on the side of Big Food. It worked hard to weaken the World Health Organization's global anti-obesity strategy and went so far as to question the scientific basis for "the linking of fruit and vegetable consumption to decreased risk of obesity and diabetes." Former Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson -- then our nation's top public-health officer -- even told members of the Grocery Manufacturers Association to "'go on the offensive' against critics blaming the food industry for obesity," according to a November 12, 2002, GMA news release.

Growing industry influence is also apparent at the President's Council on Physical Fitness. What companies has the government invited to be partners with the council's Challenge program? Coca-Cola, Burger King, General Mills, Pepsico and other blue chip members of the "obesity lobby."

In January the council's chair, former NFL star Lynn Swann, took money to appear at a public relations event for the National Automatic Merchandising Association, a vending machine trade group activists have been battling on in-school sales of junk food.

Not a lot of subtlety is required to understand what's driving Administration policy. It's large infusions of cash. In 2004 "Rangers," who bundled at least $200,000 each to the Bush/Cheney campaign, included Barclay Resler, vice president for government and public affairs at Coca-Cola; Robert Leebern Jr., president of federal affairs at Troutman Sanders PAG, lobbyist for Coca-Cola; Richard Hohlt of Hohlt & Co., lobbyist for Altria, which owns about 85 percent of Kraft foods; and José "Pepe" Fanjul, president, vice chairman and COO of Florida Crystals Corp., one of the nation's major sugar producers. Hundred-thousand-dollar men include Kirk Blalock and Marc Lampkin, both Coke lobbyists, and Joe Weller, chairman and CEO, Nestle USA. Altria also gave $250,000 to Bush's inauguration this year, and Coke and Pepsi gave $100,000 each. These gifts are in addition to substantial sums given during the 2000 campaign.

Less than a month after Cadbury Schweppes, the candy and soda company, gave a multimillion-dollar grant to the American Diabetes Association, the association's chief medical and scientific officer claimed that sugar has nothing to do with diabetes, or with weight. Industry has also bankrolled front groups like the Center for Consumer Freedom, an increasingly influential Washington outfit that demonizes public-health advocates as the "food police" and promotes the industry point of view.

Meanwhile, public opinion is solidly behind more restrictions on junk food marketing aimed at children, especially in schools. A February Wall Street Journal poll found that 83 percent of American adults believe "public schools need to do a better job of limiting children's access to unhealthy foods like snack foods, sugary soft drinks and fast food." Interestingly, this is a crossover issue between red and blue states. Concern about obesity and excessive junk food marketing to kids is shared by people across the political spectrum, and some conservatives, such as Texas Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs and the Eagle Forum's Phyllis Schlafly, as well as California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, have argued for restricting junk food marketing to children.

A vigorous government response would clearly garner the sympathy of the majority of Americans. The growing chasm between what the public wants and the Administration's protection of the profits of Big Food is a powerful example of the decline of democracy in this country. Let them eat chips!