by Marion Nestle
Mar 19 2009

Food lobbying and its consequences

My NYU Department developed programs in Food Studies based on the premise that food is so central to the human condition that studying it is a great way to get into much larger social questions.   I’ve just found a terrific example in the April 9 New York Review of Books in which Michael Tomasky reviews So Damn Much Money: The Triumph of Lobbying and the Corrosion of American Goverment, by Robert G. Kaiser. I immediately ordered a copy.

According to the review, the book chronicles events in the history of a Washington, DC lobbying firm, Schlossberg – Cassidy, run by former staff members of  Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs, chaired by George McGovern (Dem-SD).  The firm parlayed its thorough knowledge of food assistance programs into a consulting practice devoted to helping corporations deal with pesky regulations and policies that affect agriculture, food, nutrition, and health.  To give just one example: the firm’s first academic client was Jean Mayer, the nutritionist president of Tufts University.  He recruited the firm to get Congress to appropriate $27 million for a national nutrition center at Tufts.  The result is the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University.

But this first earmark set a precedent that led to today’s deeply corrupt system of rampant congressional earmarks,  election campaign contributions, dependence on polls and focus groups, and climate of political partisanship.

A book about food lobbying and its larger political and social consequences!  I can’t wait to read it.

  • It sounds like that book will be full of great fodder against lobbyists. I can’t wait to read it.

    Is there such thing as a ‘good’ lobbyist?

  • TSR

    Hi Marion,
    Thanks so much for everything you’re doing.
    Just got an e-mail about the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009: HR 875 — and I’m kind of terrified. I have been checking out many different sources online — this does indeed seem to be something to be very scared about and very real. Would you mind offering your expertise and expertise to shed a little more light on what’s happening with this bill and what you see as its potential impact?

  • Jon

    I actually deconstructed my elementary school nutrition plan as a child, pointing out that studies had shown that any cholesterol reduction as a result of margarine was a reduction in HDL, and that any idiot could see the connection between carbohydrates and diabetes. (And of course, I still didn’t get how we were supposed to get skinnier by eating more carbohydrates, since carbohydrates contain calories.) You could actually see the interests behind our nutrition classes; my own theory was that junk food interests were behind them.

    Another example is GMOs. GMOs are either 1) so substantively different that they deserve a patent, or 2) substantively identical to wildtypes and thus not needing labeling, depending on which bureaucracy is being lobbied today.

    You can find other examples.

  • sid

    for a (so-called) free-market country, the companies and the politicians of the US of A sure have a close and mutually beneficial relationship. No where does this get more insane than agriculture. (although banking was catching up fast until recent events overtook the lack of oversight-as-a-desirable-thing lobbying effort)

    Love your blog and your books. Keep up the good work.

  • BA

    George McGovern is the great former senator of the state of South Dakota, not Minnesota.

    Minnesota is home to Hubert Humphrey, Walter Mondale and Paul Wellstone (and soon to be Al Franken).

    Just a small nit pick

    I’m a long-time organic gardener and master gardener. I currently help coordinate a new project on organic gardening with a local high school outside of Wash DC. Some of the kids volunteer just to put in service hour requirement but some get drawn into the organic concept and how food is marketed by the big corps. We are in our second year and are beginning to grow enough to share it with the school’s culinary classes and eventually, the entire cafeteria.

    Just found your blog from the NY Times article. Loving it.


  • Marion

    @Brad–Thanks so much for the correction. I knew that, of course, and am totally embarrassed. Will fix immediately. Thanks for the sharp eyes! And for your truly important work with kids!

  • Individuals are already granted the right to freedom of speech. Do you think it was unfair of the Supreme Court to allow Corporations, Freedom of Speech through allowing unlimited campaign contributions?
    Corporations are made up of individuals with a goal to financially promote the corporation, each already has their own freedoms, but now collectively it seems they have MORE rights to promote their cause of financial gain.

    I believe Congress needs to step in and get money out of politics–or at least undo what the Supreme Court has done:

    You can take action:
    Speack to your legislators!