Currently browsing posts about: CSPI(Center for Science in the Public Interest)

Jan 2 2014

McDonald’s dietary recommendations for employees

Right after Christmas, the Wall Street Journal wrote that McDonald’s had taken down its website advising employees how to eat more healthfully—by not eating McDonald’s core products.

Oops.

Nothing on the Web really disappears, in part because of screenshots.  The website Russia Today, of all places, had done just that (thanks Ben Kelley, for sending).

mcdonalds unhealthy

Here’s an aggregation of what else got sent to me from other donors who prefer to remain anonymous:

After yet another PR headache, McDonald’s has taken down its employee resources website following what it deemed “unwarranted scrutiny and inappropriate commentary.”

My favorite comment comes from a tweet from Center for Science in the Public Interest, @CSPI:

Too bad re @McDonalds‘ McResource site. We liked its sensible #nutrition advice for employees (not to eat fast food) ow.ly/s5RXj

Enjoy and happy new year!

Sep 30 2013

McDonald’s going healthy? Really?

At the White House Convening on food marketing to children a couple of weeks ago, representatives of food companies repeatedly stated that advocates are not giving them nearly enough credit for how hard it is for them to make and market healthier products.  They have shareholders to please.  They need positive reinforcement.

Pressures on advocates to applaud food companies’ efforts may explain the furor last week over McDonald’s latest promises to go healthy.  In a deal brokered with the Clinton Foundation’s Alliance for a Healthier Generation, McDonald’s announced its new initiatives in full-page newspaper advertisements (read the text here):

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Among other promises, McDonald’s said it would:

Promote and market only water, milk, and juice as the beverage in Happy Meals on menu boards and in-store and external advertising.

I did not participate in any of the press events so I can’t vouch for what was said.  But it must have left the impression that McDonald’s was dropping sodas as the default drink in Happy Meals (if parents wanted a soda for their kids, they would have to order one).

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), for example, issued a press release: “Removing Soda from kids’ meals among McDonald’s improvements.”

Ronald McDonald’s slow march toward healthier meals made a major advance today, but a long road lies ahead for the company. Getting soda out of Happy Meals is historic progress that should immediately be adopted by Burger King, Wendy’s, and other chains. Soda and other sugar drinks are leading promoters of obesity and diabetes and one day it will seem crazy that restaurants ever made this junk the default beverage for kids.

USA Today quoted CSPI’s Margo Wootan:

The prospect of being able to easily order a value meal at McDonald’s that’s comprised of a burger, a small salad and bottle of water is a huge step forward, says Margo Wootan, director of nutritional policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “It takes a meal from being a nutritional disaster (burger, fries and soft drink), to something that will fit a healthy diet.

But then folks started looking at the fine print of McDonald’s actual agreement with the Clinton Alliance.

Uh oh.

CSPI issued another press release the next day: “McDonald’s, Alliance for Healthier Generation, misled public and media re: soda and Happy Meals.”

McDonald’s and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation misled the media, CSPI, and families when they stated that the company would not feature, promote, or market soda in connection with Happy Meals. In briefings to health groups and in their press release and full-page newspaper ads, McDonald’s and the Alliance claimed that the company would “promote and market only water, milk, and juice as the beverage in Happy Meals on menu boards and in-store and external advertising.” But small print in McDonald’s formal agreement with the Alliance states that “McDonald’s may list soft drinks as [sic] offering on [sic] Happy Meal section of menu boards.”

In any case, as McDonald’s explains in its press release, don’t hold your breath for any of its promises to happen soon:

All pieces of this commitment will be implemented in 30-50 percent of the 20 major markets within three years and 100 percent of the 20 markets by 2020.

In other words, McDonald’s intends to carry out these promises in a third to half of most of its major national and international markets by 2016—three years from now.  It will fulfill the promises in these particular 20 markets by 2020—seven years from now.

Food companies, alas, do not make it easy to applaud them.

Promises are one thing.  Now, if they would actually do something to make and market healthier products….

Addition 1:  Let’s Move! director and chef Sam Kass has this comment on McDonald’s promises:

We are encouraged by the progress announced today…. Making it easier for families to choose a healthy beverage in kids’ meals, and providing a salad option in the value menu are positive steps. A great deal of work remains to be done if we are going to ensure our children have the nourishment they need to live healthy lives and reach their full potential.

Addition 2: Here’s an explanation of how the discrepancy was found, from its finder, Casey Hinds of Kentucky Healthy Kids.  Casey sent the link to Michele Simon who forwarded it to Margo Wootan (and I read about the exchange on Twitter).

Update, October 11: McDonald’s clarifies its commitment; it will not advertise sodas with Happy Meals.

Sep 19 2013

White House Convening on Food Marketing to Children

If kids really are to eat more healthfully, food and beverage companies have to stop pushing products at them.  But if companies don’t market to kids, they lose money.  Regulation would solve the problem, but is not politically feasible.  Voluntary efforts are limited to companies that agree to participate.   Short of regulation, what more can be done?

This invitation felt like history in the making.  I accepted with pleasure.

New Picture

Mrs. Obama’s speech alone was well worth the trip.

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You can see it for yourself thanks to Eddie Gehman Kohan, who posted a video and a transcript of the speech on her ObamaFoodorama site.

Here is a small excerpt:

And I’m here today with one simple request — and that is to do even more and move even faster to market responsibly to our kids…the goal here is to empower parents instead of undermining them as they try to make healthier choices for their families.  And we need you to lead the way in creating demand for healthy foods so that kids actually start “pestering” us for those foods in the grocery store.  And then parents actually start buying them, and then companies have incentives to make and sell even more of those foods.

And ideally, in a decade or so, we would see a dramatic shift across the entire industry.  We’d see companies shifting marketing dollars away from those less healthy products and investing those dollars in your healthier products instead…See, the decisions that you make about marketing won’t just affect what our kids are eating today — those decisions are going to also affect the health of your workforce tomorrow…. You see, over the past few years, we’ve seen some real changes in the foods our kids are eating, starting from the time they’re born…this isn’t just some passing trend or fad.

So there might be those out there whose strategy is to just wait this out — folks who might still be thinking to themselves, well, in a few years, this lady will be gone — (laughter) — and this whole Let’s Move thing will finally be over, so we can go back to business as usual.  And I know that none of you here are thinking that way.  (Laughter.)  But if you know anyone who is — (laughter) — you might want to remind them that I didn’t create this issue, and it’s not going to go away three and a half years from now when I’m no longer First Lady.

Obama Foodorama also posts the list of who attended.  This was a diverse group of representatives of the food industry, trade associations, media, government agencies, private organizations, and universities who sought common ground.

A few points seemed clear from the discussion:

  • Some food companies are making substantial progress in trying to reduce their marketing of less healthful foods.
  • Advocates wish they would do more, faster.
  • The business barriers are formidable.

I think it’s wonderful that the First Lady is taking on this critical topic, impressive that such diverse opinions were represented, and remarkable that this meeting, if nothing else, holds the possibility of opening the door to further discussion.

An open door is needed.  As Bill Dietz, a former CDC official who was at the meeting, told FoodNavigator: “the food industry has repeatedly thwarted federal efforts to curb food marketing to kids.”

Center for Science in the Public Interest has some suggestions for what the next steps should be.

Cheers to Let’s Move! for taking this on.

Oct 10 2012

CSPI launches “Real Bears” Video. Hint: soda companies won’t like it.

Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has just launched its new drink-less-soda initiative, “The Real Bears” video, just in time for Food Day on October 24.

According to USA Today, CSPI teamed up with

Alex Bogusky, the culturally influential ad legend whose former agency, Crispin Porter + Bogusky, has created ads for such hot-button clients as Burger King, Domino’s and, yes, Coca-Cola.

Bogusky left the agency world in disgust two years ago. Now, he’s back in a new role: taking on the cola industry….

The video is, to say the least, hard hitting.  I’m waiting for soda industry responses and will post them here.  Stay tuned.

 

Jul 12 2012

My latest letter from lawyers: VITAMINWATER®

I’ve been away for the last couple of weeks, and am just getting to accumulated mail.  I was surprised to find a letter dated June 18 from Angela Wilson, an attorney at Parks IP Law, a limited liability firm specializing in intellectual property rights.

In her letter, which you can read here in its entirety, Ms. Wilson writes:

We represent Energy Brands Inc., a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Coca-Cola company.  Recently, we noticed that Food Politics used the term “vitamin Water” in the article, “New York Plans to Ban Sale of Big Sizes of Sugary Drinks,” which appeared in the June 4, 2012 edition of your publication (see attached).

I’m confused.  The article attached to the letter is my post, “Weight of the Nation: the new “Hunger in America”?, a June 4 reprint of a column I wrote for the San Francisco Chronicle.  It does not refer to “vitamin Water.”

Foodpolitics.com contains an excellent search engine.  I searched my posts for “New York Plans to Ban….”   No post with that title exists.   I looked at posts about Mayor Bloomberg’s proposed ban on large sodas.  My post about the soda initiative contains plenty of references to Coca-Cola, but says nothing about “vitamin Water.”

A search for “vitamin water” turns up 17 posts, the most recent in 2011.  The most relevant is an account of a class-action suit filed against Coca-Cola by the Center for Science in the Public Interest arguing that “Vitamin Water makes sugary drinks that promote obesity but positions these products as healthful because they contain added vitamins and herbs.”

Never mind.  Let’s focus on the matter at hand.  Attorney Wilson’s letter continues:

It appears that the article may have been referring to our client’s VITAMINWATER® brand, but because Food Politics used the phrase “Vitamin Water,” that may not be clear to your readers.  Accordingly, we write to request that your writers [sic] refer to our client’s trademark properly in future stories. [I used sic because I'm the only writer on this site.]

Her letter suggests that I follow some simple guidelines when referring to her client’s trademark.  You might enjoy reading the entire list for yourself, but here’s a short summary:

  • DO distinguish our client’s VITAMINWATER® trademark as one word (without a space in the middle) and in all capitals or italics
  • DO add the registration symbol (“®”)
  • DO follow all references to our client’s trademark with the words “enhanced water”
  • DON’T use terms such as “vitaminwater,” “vitamin water,” or “vitamin waters”

Ms. Wilson’s letter concludes: “When you use our client’s name correctly, you help protect the integrity of their [sic] innovative enhanced water product.”

[Why sic?  I'm a professor and can't help this sort of thing.  "Client" is singular; "their" is plural.  Nouns and pronouns should agree.]

I can only imagine the enormous fees that Parks IP Law and Angela Wilson must be getting from Coca-Cola to get me to refer more precisely to its trademarks.

I’ll try.  I promise.

Oct 10 2011

Rumor alert: White House backing off from standards for food marketing?

Sometimes when I hear rumors that I can’t corroborate, I keep fingers crossed that they aren’t true.  Here’s one.

Rumors say that the White House has caved in to food, beverage and advertising lobbying groups on the nutrition standards for food marketing to children developed by the Interagency Working Group (IWG).

Recall: the IWG’s members—the FDA, FTC, USDA, and CDC–produced recommendations for nutrition standards for marketing foods to kids (see previous posts).

The food and beverage industries think that if the standards are adopted, they will have to abide by them, thereby losing sales.  They do not want restrictions on how, when, and where they advertise their products to kids.

Rumors say that the FTC—the agency that regulates food advertising—is being pressed by the White House to back off.

Rumors say the FTC is withdrawing the proposedstandards for teens except for some in-school marketing, and that the FTC’s explanation is that  “to be successful in this endeavor food companies must be given leeway to shape an approach that will promote children’s health, without being overly burdensome on industry….”

Could the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s  October 12 hearings on the standards have anything to do wth this?   Or the tough memo prepared by committee staff in preparation for the hearing?  The staff memo raises highly critical questions about the FTC and the IWG report.

The proposed standards, please recall, are voluntary.  And I didn’t think they were all that restrictive (see previous post).

But if the rumors are true, even this administration can’t do anything to limit  food marketing to kids and we are right back where we were in 1979, the last time the FTC tried to do so.

Please say it isn’t so.

Addition 1: FTC has now posted its prepared testimony: “As a result of the many comments we received from various stakeholders…the Working Group is in the midst of making significant revisions to its preliminary proposal. The anticipated revisions go a long way to address industry’s concerns.”

It gets worse:

The Commission staff believes that this approach resolves many of the flashpoints that generated strongest industry concern.

For instance, FTC staff has determined that, with the exception of certain in-school marketing activities, it is not necessary to encompass adolescents ages 12 to 17 within the scope of covered marketing….In addition, the FTC staff believes that philanthropic activities, charitable events, community programs, entertainment and sporting events, and theme parks are, for the most part, directed to families or the general community and do not warrant inclusion with more specifically child-directed marketing.

Moreover, it would be counterproductive to discourage food company sponsorship of these activities to the extent that many benefit children’s health by promoting physical activity.

Finally, the Commission staff does not contemplate recommending that food companies change the trade dress elements of their packaging or remove brand equity characters from food products that don’t meet nutrition recommendations.

Addition 2:  Margo Wootan of CSPI provides a copy of her written testimony for the IWG .

Addition 3: Here’s the written statement of Dale Kunkel of the University of Arizona.

Addition 4, October 11Adweek headlines its story on this fiasco, “Ronald McDonald, Toucan Sam to get pardon from feds?”

Sep 28 2011

Help! Rescue the government’s marketing-to-kids nutrition standards!

I’ve just gotten an urgent plea from Margo Wootan at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).

Please encourage everyone to write to President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, and federal agencies to support the nutrition standards for marketing foods to kids.

As I’ve discussed previously, these were created jointly by the Interagency Working Group (IWG) of four federal agencies—CDC, FDA, FTC, and USDA.

Under intense pressure from the food and entertainment industries and their friends in Congress, the IWG’s proposed guidelines—voluntary, no less—are in danger of being withdrawn.

Doing that might help corporate health but would do nothing for public health.

CSPI organized 75 researchers (including me) to send a letter to the President urging support of the voluntary guidelines and expressing dismay at the campaign of disinformation aimed at getting them withdrawn.

Junk-food advertisers, in the guise of the Sensible Food Policy Coalition, have attacked the voluntary guidelines as an assault on the First Amendment, a point debunked by top Constitutional experts, and claimed that adopting the voluntary guidelines would result in job losses, based on a flimsy industry “study.”

….It would be a real setback for children’s health if the Administration backed down on strong guidelines for food marketing to children, especially given the transparently specious arguments of junk-food advertisers….Denying the science on food marketing and childhood obesity is like denying the science on global warming or evolution.

But the food industry is dug in on this one.  For example, a reader sent me this letter from Tom Forsythe, Vice President, Corporate Communications, General Mills (excerpts follow with my comments in brackets):

Your email notes that we have lobbied against the Interagency Working Group (IWG) proposal.  That is correct.  We have serious concerns about the IWG proposal.

Our most advertised product is cereal – and we stand behind it.   Cereal is one of the healthiest breakfast choices you can make….If it is a General Mills cereal, it will also be a good or excellent source of whole grains.

Childhood obesity is a serious issue – and General Mills wants to be part of the solution.  But if the issue is obesity, cereal should perhaps be advertised more, not less.

…You can be assured than food and beverage companies have studied every letter, comma and period in the proposal.  We know what it says, and what it does not.

For example, we know that 88 of the 100 most commonly consumed foods and beverages could not be marketed under the IWG guidelines.  The list of “banned” items under the guidelines would include essentially all cereals, salads, whole wheat bread, yogurt, canned vegetables, and a host of other items universally recognized as healthy [Note: I'm not at all sure this is true--MN].

Despite the characterizations used to advance them, the IWG guidelines would not be voluntary, in our view.  The IWG guidelines are advanced by two of the agencies most responsible for regulating the food industry, as well as the agency most responsible for regulating advertising.  Ignoring their “voluntary guidance” would not be an option for most companies.

Regulation has already been threatened (even demanded) should companies choose not to comply – and litigation would inevitably follow.

The IWG guidelines also conflict with most existing government programs and definitions relative to food.  For example, many products that meet the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s current definition of “healthy” could not be advertised under the IWG guidelines [It would be interesting to see examples].

Many products included in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program fail the IWG standards, as do most products encouraged and subsidized under the USDA’s Women, Infants and Children Feeding Program (WIC) [If so, this is a sad commentary on what we encourage low-income mothers and children to eat].

Finally, your email suggests companies should focus on providing feedback via public comment.  We agree.  We have reviewed every detail of the IWG proposal – and we remain opposed, as our public comment explains.

My interpretation: if food companies are this upset, the guidelines must be pretty good.

Companies have the right to sell whatever they like.  But they should not have the right to market it as healthy or to kids.

Tell the IWG you support their guidelines.  Tell the White House to protect the guidelines.  Now, please.

 

 

Aug 2 2010

Why the FDA must act on health claims

On July 30, Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI)—in collaboration with representatives of a long list of distinguished health and consumer organizations (see below)–wrote Martha Coven of the Domestic Policy Council and Ezekiel Emanuel of the Office of Management and Budget urging them to encourage the FDA to take more vigorous enforcement action against misleading health claims on food packages.

Their petition responds to comments by the FDA’s Michael Taylor (discussed in a previous post) in a July 19 article for the Atlantic Food Channel, titled “How the FDA is picking its food battles.”   In explaining why the FDA is backing off from doing anything about unsubstantiated health claims on food products, Taylor said:

FDA must pick its battles—and set its priorities—in a way that will best benefit the public health….We have no pre-market review authority over such claims, and, under prevailing legal doctrines concerning “commercial free speech,” the evidentiary requirements placed on FDA to prove that such claims are misleading are significant and costly to meet. Moreover, meeting them requires tapping the same team of nutritionists, labeling experts, and lawyers who are working on our other nutrition initiatives.

We’re also conscious of the cleverness of marketing folks, who, once we prove today’s claim is misleading, can readily come up with another one tomorrow. Going after them one-by-one with the legal and resource restraints we work under is a little like playing Whac-a-Mole, with one hand tied behind your back.

So, we must make choices….especially considering the other high-priority nutrition and food safety initiatives that compete for FDA’s finite resources. We’ll consider all possibilities, but, in the meantime, we call on the food industry to exercise restraint, and we welcome the scrutiny CSPI and the media give to this issue.

Clearly, I was not the only one dismayed by this statement, which appears to be an open invitation to food companies to do whatever they like with health claims.  Indeed, Taylor’s statement reminded me of the Bush Administration’s FDA which, in 2003, announced that it had lost so many first amendment  health claims cases in court that it no longer intended to fight them.

But Taylor’s statement is also an open invitation to food advocates to get busy, as CSPI and the other signers of this letter have now done. The letter, dated July 30, 2010, is a follow up to a June 11 meeting on FDA/USDA Food Labeling Reform Efforts:

At Zeke’s suggestion, we are attaching a Priority List/Timetable Chart that provides an overview of the recommendations we made at our meeting and delineates how those recommendations intersect. As we discussed:

• We commend the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for increasing the number of enforcement actions it has taken against misleading food labeling, and we urge the agency to increase those efforts. We also commend the FDA’s initiative to develop a system for disclosing key nutrition information on the fronts of food labels. However, we emphasize that the existing Nutrition Facts panel must also be modernized. In particular, nutrition information must be based on up-to-date serving sizes, a Daily Value for added sugars must be established and added to the existing Nutrition Facts panel, and “Calories per serving” must be displayed more prominently. Revisions to the Nutrition Facts panel and the development of a front-of-pack disclosure system are closely intertwined and should be developed concurrently.

• We urge the Domestic Policy Council to ask the FDA to ensure that any front-of-pack labeling scheme is not undercut by deceptive health-related claims on the fronts of food packages. Such claims, if unabated, will divert attention from any front-of-pack scheme the FDA develops. Since our meeting, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued a consent order prohibiting claims that a food product could strengthen immunity because the claim lacked sufficient clinical evidence. Such claims are called “structure/function” claims by the FDA. The FDA should take a consistent position regarding the use of those claims. In addition, the FDA should address claims exaggerating the presence of healthy ingredients stressed in the U.S. Dietary Guidelines such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. For example, failure to remedy claims such as “Made with real fruit” on products that contain little fruit will detract from a declaration of sugar content that the FDA may specify in a front-of-pack labeling scheme, thus frustrating the Administration’s attempts to reduce childhood obesity.

• One way to remedy exaggerated claims for healthy ingredients (other than prohibiting them completely) is for the FDA to revise the ingredient list to require that the percentage of key ingredients such as fruit be disclosed in a clear, easily readable manner. FDA could also require that ingredient lists group all sources of added sugars to provide consumers with a clearer indication of the amount of added sugar in a product. The First Lady has recognized that ingredient labeling reform is an integral part of the Administration’s broader efforts to combat childhood obesity. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is already working on new formats for ingredient labeling. We support those efforts and request the Council to encourage the FDA to follow USDA’s approach.

• In regard to a timetable, the recommendations we have made are closely intertwined with efforts already ongoing at the FDA. In some cases, they are necessary to ensure that those ongoing efforts by FDA succeed. We, therefore, urge the Council to recommend that the FDA expand its food labeling reform initiatives to include these additional issues and address them concurrently. Additional efforts that complement existing FDA labeling reform initiatives should commence as soon as the first set of initiatives is published in the Federal Register. All initiatives should be finalized by October 2012. This request is based on the fact that the FDA implemented the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990 in two years. The reform efforts we request are more limited than the requirements of the 1990 Act, and the FDA should be able to accomplish them by 2012 based on the agency’s previous performance on such matters.

• Rep. DeLauro, Chair of the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, asked the FDA how many FTEs the agency would need to issue regulations to revise the Nutrition Facts panel, increase the prominence of calories per serving, require caffeine labeling, and establish a daily value for added sugars, as well as other issues. The FDA stated that approximately “10-12” additional FTE’s would be necessary to address such concerns. Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations for 2005: Hearings Before a Subcomm. of the House Comm. on Appropriations, 108th Cong. 2d Sess. 323 (2004). While the FDA’s response at the time involved some issues not covered by our current requests, we believe that the FDA’s estimate is still reasonable, and we urge the Council and the Office of Management and Budget to work with the FDA to ensure that the FDA devotes additional resources to this effort.

We welcome the opportunity to assist the Administration and look forward to continuing our dialogue.

The letter is signed by Bruce Silverglade, Director of Legal Affairs, CSPI and representatives of Consumers Union, American Public Health Association, American Medical Association,  American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Heart Association,  American Society of Bariatric Physicians, American Diabetes Association,  American Dietetic Association, Alliance for Retired Americans, Society for Nutrition Education, American Institute for Cancer Research, and Directors of Health Promotion and Education.

Let’s hope the FDA pays attention and gets busy on these issues.

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