Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Jul 30 2012

Pizza chains want easier (or no) menu labeling

Now that the Supreme Court says that the Affordable Care Act is constitutional, it’s time to get those pesky menu labeling regulations in place.  That Act, you may recall, included a provision to take menu labeling national.

Late in May, Nation’s Restaurant News reported that pizza restaurant chains were banding together to fight FDA’s forthcoming menu-labeling regulations.

The American Pizza Community (TAPC) represents chains like Domino’s Pizza, Papa John’s Pizza, Little Caesar Enterprises, the International Pizza Hut Franchise Holders Association, Hungry Howie’s and Godfather’s Pizza.

TAPC members want alternatives for menu labeling that “would work for pizza.”

When there are 34 million ways to top a pizza just at Domino’s, it’s easy to understand how the one-size-fits-all situation currently proposed doesn’t work for pizza.

On June 4, Food Chemical News said the pizza industry would be asking Congress for an exemption from the menu labeling final rule.

Two days later, TAPC denied that charge.

On June 19, the Washington Post reported that TAPC met with congressional representatives to push for changes to the menu labeling plan.  What kind of changes?  Could they include exemptions?  Not clear.

TAPC is getting somewhere.  Congressman John Carter (R-TX) has just introduced a bill to weaken the national menu labeling law.  This would exempt supermarkets and convenience stores from having to post calorie information on prepared foods, gives a break to pizza, and allows calories to be listed by serving size.

Also in the meantime, Food Chemical News says the House Appropriations subcommittee told the FDA to narrow the focus of its menu labeling rule.  Translation: leave out movie theaters and, maybe, pizza.

I happen to love pizza, but it is unquestionably a major source of calories in American diets.  A slice of a big thick pizza can easily run 1000 calories.  I’d like to think that some pizza eaters might find that information useful.

I think pizza places should label calories—really, they can figure out how to do it—and that’s what I told  CBS TV on June 20.

Margo Wootan at Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has an op-ed in The Hill with a good summary of the reasons why menu labeling needs to get moving.  If you agree, CSPI has a model letter you can quickly send to the President, the Secretary of Health and Human Services (the FDA’s parent agency), and the FDA.

What’s holding up the regs?  First, the Supreme Court, but that’s no longer an excuse.  The upcoming election maybe?  That’s no excuse either.

Jul 27 2012

Should soda and fast-food companies sponsor the Olympics?

On the eve of the Olympics, The Lancet has published a special issue on physical activity.

Since this is too small to read:

Physical activity:

Worldwide, we estimated that physical inactivity causes 6-10% of the major non-communicable diseases…physical inactivity seems to have an effect similar to that of smoking or obesity.

The issue is packed with carefully researched commentaries and papers on the benefits of physical activity.

But it starts out with a tough editorial,  Chariots of Fries:

The Games should encourage physical activity, promote healthy living, and inspire the next generation to exercise. However, marring this healthy vision has been the choice of junk food and drink giants—McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, and Cadbury’s—as major sponsors of the event

Health campaigners have rightly been dismayed. On June 20, the London Assembly (an elected body that scrutinises the work of the Mayor of London) passed a motion urging the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to adopt strict sponsorship criteria that exclude food and drinks companies strongly associated with high calorie brands and products linked to childhood obesity.

Meanwhile, the UK’s Academy of Medical Royal Colleges has said that the presence of McDonald’s and Coca-Cola at the 2012 Games sends out the wrong message to children.

This morning, I received an e-mail from the Coca-Cola Civic Action Network (CAN), described on its website as

a non-partisan group whose purpose is to provide information to the Coca-Cola family about national, state, and local issues that could affect us.  Whenever an issue comes up that could change our day-to-day lives, CAN goes to work getting important information to its members.

The message lists Coca-Cola’s Olympic actions:

  • Olympic Torch Relay
    Integrated Marketing Campaign, Move to the Beat
  • Global Anthem, Documentary & Global TV Commercial
  • Coca-Cola Presents, Beat TV
  • Digital & Mobile Application
  • Games-time Refreshment
  • Powerade Sports Academy
  • Physical Activity Programs
  • Legacy in sustainability

The e-mail says:

Coca-Cola will be refreshing and hydrating the 14,000 athletes, 7,000 officials, 20,000 workers and volunteers and more than 6 million spectators that are expected to flock to the Olympic Park. From one product in one size offered at the 1948 Olympic Games, to today’s more than 500 brands at the London 2012 Games, Coca-Cola will provide the widest range of drinks and sizes ever offered at an Olympic or Paralympic Games, to suit every lifestyle and hydration need.

Should soda and fast-food companies be sponsoring the Olympics?  Is this the message we want sent to kids?  I don’t think so.  You?

Jul 26 2012

USDA supports Meatless Monday? Not a chance.

I was asked by a reporter yesterday for comment on the press release issued by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) in response to USDA’s announced support of the Meatless Monday campaign.  

What? 

My immediate reaction: It’s pretty unbelievable that USDA would support Meatless Monday. Where’s the USDA statement? [see addition below]

The NCBA press release said:

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) recent announcement that the agency embraces the “Meatless Monday” concept calls into question USDA’s commitment to U.S. farmers and ranchers. USDA stated “one simple way to reduce our environmental impact while dining at our cafeteria is to participate in the “Meatless Monday” initiative.”

NCBA said Meatless Monday “is an animal rights extremist campaign to ultimately end meat consumption” and “NCBA will not remain silent as USDA turns its back on cattlemen and consumers.”

Without having seen what USDA said, I told the reporter:

If USDA is really supporting Meatless Monday, that’s big news. Historically, the USDA has worked hand in glove with the meat industry and has firmly resisted suggestions that it would be healthier for people and the planet to eat less meat.

The meat industry complained that the 2010 dietary guidelines pushed seafood and that meat got lost in protein in MyPlate, so they are supersensitive to this issue. Anyone who has ever been to a feedlot or industrial pig farm knows that the environmental issues are huge. You can smell them from miles away.

And what did the USDA actually say?  Oops.  Mistake.

According to the Boston Globe:

The Agriculture Department says a statement on its website encouraging its employees not to eat meat on Mondays was made without proper clearance.

The posting earlier this week was part of an internal newsletter that discusses how staff can reduce their environmental impact while dining at the agency’s cafeteria.

….USDA spokeswoman Cortney Rowe says the department does not endorse the “Meatless Monday” initiative, which is part of a global public health campaign.

Apparently, the USDA pulled the statement within minutes after the NCBA statement went out. 

How did USDA announce this to the public?  On Twitter!

USDA MT @usdapress: USDA does not endorse Meatless Monday. Statement on USDA site posted w/o proper clearance. It has been removed // @FarmBureau

 Food politics in action!

Addition, June 27: Here’s the original USDA Newsletter that caused all this fuss.  Scroll to page 3.

Jul 25 2012

Yesterday’s hearing on Big Soda ban

I’m out of town but learned about the hearing by e-mail and twitter (thanks to senders), and I’ve read the coverage in Huffington Post,  the Christian Science Monitor, and the Toronto Star.

One picture says it all:

Jul 24 2012

The Bloomberg soda initiative: soda companies fight back, overtly and covertly

The hearing on Bloomberg’s soda volume limit takes place today.  I’m traveling and sorry to miss it (I filed comments).

I shouldn’t be surprised but I am stunned by the intensity and depth of soda industry pushback on this, most of it going on and on about the virtues of personal choice, as if container size has nothing to do with the amount people eat.  It does (see below).

In addition to what reporters have been reporting, here’s what I’ve seen personally:

  • A phony “grassroots”petition campaign paid for by the soda industry with campaigners paid $30 per hour to collect signatures
  • A mailing to my home asking me to protest
  • Handout cards
  • Subway posters
  • Tee shirts
  • And highly visible ads on trucks.

And then there’s yesterday’s op-ed in the Wall Street Journal from Seth Goldman, the “TEA-EO” of Honest Tea:

I challenge the mayor and the New York City Board of Health to seriously consider the impediments that entrepreneurs already face in our efforts to offer lower-calorie drinks. Starting a business and building a challenger brand with modest resources is already a daunting task. The proposed ban would create additional barriers to beverage innovation.

Only one thing wrong with this.  Mr. Goldman must have forgotten to mention that since March 2011, Honest Tea has been a wholly owned subsidiary of Coca-Cola.

Yes, I know the petition has gathered 75,000 signatures or so.  The campaigners and signers should all know better.  See this, for example:

Jul 23 2012

New data on calories reported as consumed

USDA has just released the latest figures on nutrient intakes among Americans.  These amounts are reported by a statistically determined sample of people interviewed as part of the What We Eat in America NHANES—the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

Having just published Why Calories Count: From Science to Politics, I’m interested in calories.

The survey results from 2009-2010 for calories per day for adults over the age of 20:

  •  Men          2512
  • Women     1778

How many of those calories are consumed away from home?

  • Men         35%
  • Women   30%

How are daily calories distributed?

No, the percentages do not add up to 100%.  That’s because of snacks.  What percent of calories is consumed as snacks?

  • Men       24%
  • Women 23%

No surprises here, but the figures are fun to play with.

Compared to the figures reported in Why Calories Count for 2008, the figures for daily intake are not significantly changed.

Note: These are reported figures, and remain well below the 3000 calories a day for men and 2400 for women observed in studies that actually measure calorie balance.

Jul 20 2012

SNAP to Health: A Fresh Approach to Strengthening SNAP

I’m on the advisory committee for SNAP to Health, a project of the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress, chaired by Dr. Susan Blumenthal.

The Commission released its report on Wednesday in Washington DC at a congressional briefing at which I (and several others) spoke.

The report, Snap to Health, is online at this link.  Its recommendations are here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The major points made at the briefing:

  • SNAP funding must be preserved; the program is a lifeline for 46 million Americans, half of them children.
  • SNAP, as Rep. Ron Wyden (Dem-OR) put it, “is a conveyor belt for calories.”  It would be better if the calories came from healthier foods.
  • The prevalence of obesity is high among low-income Americans and some evidence suggests that rates may be higher among SNAP participants.
  • Buying healthier foods with SNAP benefits is not easy.  There are problems with access, cost, and relentless marketing of junk foods to low-income groups in general and to EBT users in particular.

As I discussed in my remarks (which are also supposed to be posted on SnapToHealth.org soon), food companies and retailers specifically target marketing efforts to low-income groups and to SNAP participants.  No such efforts market healthier foods to EBT users.

Michele Simon’s recent report documents the extensive lobbying efforts of food companies to make sure that SNAP recipients can use EBT cards to buy their products.

The Snap to Health report is meant to start a national conversation about helping this program to address twenty-first century health challenges.

Let the conversation begin!

Jul 19 2012

What’s holding up the new food safety regulations?

A full-page ad in Tuesday’s New York Times (July 17) alerts readers to the astonishing 18-month delay in issuing food safety rules authorized by the Food Safety Modernization Act passed by Congress at the end of 2010.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The sponsor of the ad, Make Our Food Safe, is a coalition of highly respected public health and advocacy groups working on food safety issues.

According to the New York Times report, they are baffled by the delay.

But the F.D.A. rules that are needed to carry out the law have been under review by the Office of Management and Budget in the White House since December, and consumer health advocates say there has been no explanation for what they describe as a lengthy delay.

….Before the rules become official, the F.D.A. still has to circulate them for public comment, adding more months to the process. The rules for importers were expected in January and for domestic food processors in July, advocates said.

Could the delay be due to election-year politics?  Advocates wonder if

Democrats may want to avoid the impression that government regulation is growing, a popular cause for attacks by Republicans.

The Office of Management and Budget denies this.

Moira Mack, a spokeswoman for the Office of Management and Budget, said that the agency coordinates suggestions from many institutions across the federal government, and that it is not unusual for the review process to take months. A regulation last year on dangerous snakes, for example, took about 10 months to clear, she said.

Oh come on.  These rules are about protecting the public from dangerous microbes.  They need to move.

The Make Our Food Safe website makes it easy to write President Obama to release the FDA’s proposed rules.    Add your voice!

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