by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Food-policy

Jul 27 2016

Plate of the Union goes Presidential

Food Policy Action wants presidential candidates to talk about food issues.  Its Plate of the Union campaign says:

Our food system is out of balance, and it’s time to take action.  Current food policies prioritize corporate interests at the expense of our health, the environment, and working families. This has led to spikes in obesity and type-2 diabetes, costing taxpayers billions of dollars each year. If you are elected president, I urge you to take bold steps to reform our food system to make sure every American has equal access to healthy, affordable food that is fair to workers, good for the environment, and keeps farmers on the land.

Here’s what the campaign is doing, courtesy of today’s New York Times:

In an e-mailed press release (which I can’t find online), Food Policy Action says:

Plate of the Union leaders Tom Colicchio, Ricardo Salvador and Navina Khanna spoke with Congressional members and staff, delegates and other convention-goers about commonsense steps the next president can take to change the status quo of the nation’s food policy, which currently prioritizes corporate interests at the expense of food and farm workers, and which is making Americans increasingly sick.

“When elected leaders talk about creating good jobs and boosting the economy, they absolutely have to consider food and farm policies,” said Navina Khanna, director of HEAL Food Alliance. “Six of the eight worst-paying jobs in America are in the food system. Our current food system was designed to benefit a few corporations at the expense of working families. That’s got to change.”

If you agree, sign the Plate of the Union petition on its site.
And just for fun, Politico Morning Agriculture’s Jenny Hopkinson provides this souvenir from the Democratic convention.
Jul 13 2016

Should FDA be an independent agency?

A couple of weeks ago, Politico reported that six former commissioners of the FDA agreed that this agency needed to become independent of its present location in government.

The FDA is presently one of eight agencies in the Public Health Service of the Department of Health and Human Services.

The former commisioners think the FDA would be better off having

either Cabinet-level powers or the autonomy of agencies like the Federal Trade Commission or the Securities and Exchange Commission. They argued that the FDA, which regulates more than a quarter of the economy and deals with critical food and drug safety, is harmed by bureaucracy, meddling politicians and confusing budgetary lines in Congress.

Politico quotes former commissioner David Kessler: “The micromanagement from on top has probably gotten to the point where an independent agency is necessary.”

Every decision made by FDA officials must be cleared not only through the FDA bureaucracy, but also through that of HHS—and the White House Office of Management and Budget.

This explains why the FDA appears to—and does—move at pre-climate change glacial speed.

But that’s not the only structural problem that impedes the work of this agency.  The other big one is how it gets funded.

The FDA is a public health agency housed in the health department.

BUT: it gets its congressional funding from House and Senate Agricultural committees.

These can hardly be expected to be sympathetic to the FDA’s regulatory mission to keep foods safe and labeled accurately.

This happened for reasons of history.  In its earlier incarnations, the FDA was part of the USDA.  It moved, but its funding didn’t.

These calls raise issues about the structure of food regulation at the federal level.  I’ve written about calls for a single food agency often on this site.  This may be a good time to consider how best to deal with food policy in the next few years.  We badly need:

  • Food policy linked to health policy
  • Better linkage of the FDA’s and the USDA’s food safety regulation
  • Better coordination of food and nutrition policy overall

It’s great that the commissioners started this conversation.  It’s one well worth continuing.

 

Nov 18 2015

Food Policy Action releases 2015 Congressional scorecard

I went yesterday to the press conference for the release of the Food Policy Action 2015 Scorecard.

IMG-20151117-00671

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This was outdoors at Campos Community Garden in Manhattan’s East Village, attended by classes of schoolkids.  The speakers:

Food Policy Action aims to improve national discussions of food policy issues by informing the public about how elected officials vote on these issues.  Hence: the Scorecard.

As I discussed last year, points are awarded for votes on bills introduced or co-sponsored that deal with:

  • Domestic and international hunger
  • Food safety
  • Food access
  • Farm subsidies
  • Animal welfare
  • Food and farm labor
  • Nutrition
  • Food additives
  • Food transparency
  • Local and regional food production
  • The environmental effects of food production

In the Senate, for example, there were just 5 bills to be voted on an 10 that were co-sponsored (but not voted on).  In the House, there were votes on 10 bills and 12 that were co-sponsored (no vote).  This leaves lots of room for improvement, even among the best.

The speakers explained to the kids that the Scorecard gave grades to members of Congress, just like they get, and took them through a discussion of thumbs up and thumbs down appraisals of legislators’ votes on key food issues.  Congress is doing a little better this year than last, they said, but still has a long way to go.

Those of us in New York are lucky.  Both of our Senators, Kirsten Gillbrand and Charles Schumer scored 100.

Here are my reports on the Scorecards from 2013 and 2014.  The Scorecard is a great first step in holding legislators accountable.

Jul 27 2015

Our endlessly arcane and unhealthy sugar policy

While we are on the topic of sugars (see previous post) I saw this ad on the Hagstrom Report.  I wondered what it was about.
sugar

I went to the American Sugar Alliance website to look.

Legislation introduced by Congressman Ted Yoho (R-FL) to end global sugar subsidies in favor of a free market has picked up key endorsements in recent weeks, including many conservative organizations and numerous lawmakers.

Yoho’s bill would instruct the administration to target the foreign sugar subsidies that are distorting world prices. Once foreign subsidies are eradicated, U.S. sugar policy would be eliminated.

If I understand this correctly, Congressman Yoho is offering a trade:  If foreign governments of sugar-producing countries will stop subsidizing their countries’ sugar producers, we will stop charging tariffs on the sugar we import from them and we will end our quota system for sugar beets, both of which keep U.S. sugar prices considerably higher than world market prices.

For decades, U.S. Presidents have pledged to fix sugar policies (see my post explaining how they work), but they always get stopped by the well organized interests of the U.S. sugar industry—the producers of cane and beet sugar.

Current policies result in higher sugar prices for consumers but since the higher costs average out to only about $10 per person per year, nobody gets too upset about them.

European sugar quotas are supposed to end this year.  Whether they will is uncertain.

But wait!  Maybe higher sugar prices are a Good Thing.  Higher prices generally discourage consumption.

Clearly, these higher prices are not high enough.  This graph shows trends in the availability (not really consumption) of sugars in the food supply per capita, in pounds per year.

Capture

The good news: Total sugars have been declining in the food supply since about 2000 and now “only” amount to about 100 pounds per person per year.

Most of the drop is in the availability of cane and beet sugars (sucrose), now down to just over 40 pounds per capita.

The not-so-good news:  Sucrose (glucose and fructose) is being replaced by corn syrup (glucose) and high fructose corn syrup (glucose and fructose).

The bottom line: just about everyone would be healthier consuming less of any kind of sugar.

Apr 24 2015

Food politics: the Lancet policy infographic

As part of its series on obesity, the Lancet has produced this chart to illustrate why it is so important to create a food environment that makes healthy choices easy.  Nice!

Dec 1 2014

Second International Congress of Nutrition: little progress, ongoing frustration, alas

The Second International Conference on Nutrition took place in Rome a week ago.  It brought together a wide range of people from government, nongovernmental organizations, international agencies, and donors to consider how world leaders could join forces to end malnutrition in all its forms.

The First such conference took place 22 years ago.  I wrote a disheartening account of it at the time.  In reading it over (it is only two pages), I am struck by how little has changed.

The conference produced two documents of note:

Corinna Hawkes, now at the World Cancer Research Fund, reported on the meeting.

The documents were adopted in a matter of minutes at the commencement of the conference. And then they somehow disappeared…So, my conclusion on ICN2? It’s only going to make a real difference if it is seen as the initiation of a process rather than its conclusion—the start, not the end. And if this helps prevent malnutrition—in all its forms—then we can safely say it will indeed have made a difference.

ICN2 elicited a collection of documents, among them:

  • WHO Global Nutrition Targets 2025
  • WHO non-communicable disease targets.
  • IFPRI’s Global Nutrition Report: “Under existing assumptions, projections from the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF show that the world is not on track to meet any of the six WHA nutrition targets. Globally, little progress is being made in decreasing rates for anemia, low birth weight, wasting in children under age five, and verweight in children under age five. Progress in increasing exclusive breastfeeding rates has been similarly lackluster.”
  • Public Interest Civil Society Organizations: Statement: “22 years after ICN1, this conference is taking place without properly evaluating progress or failures and without significant participation of civil society, in particular those most affected by hunger and malnutrition in all its forms. We deplore that ICN1 has sunk without trace and we do not want this to happen for ICN2…The conclusion of the ICN2 negotiations is a welcome step, in particular its focus on malnutrition in all its forms. However, we consider it inadequate to confront the scale of the global malnutrition challenge.”

This last statement concludes with a call to action:

22 years – an entire generation – have passed since the first ICN. It is unacceptable that millions of people continue suffer from and die of preventable causes of malnutrition in all its forms. This violence must stop immediately.

We call upon Member States to make clear and firm commitments at both national and international levels to ensure the full realization of the human right to adequate food and nutrition and related rights. We will not watch idly as another 22 years pass by.

We stand ready to play our part and take up our responsibilities. We demand that Member States and the UN system live up to their obligations.

We hereby declare a worldwide People’s Decade of Action on Nutrition.

The time for action is now!

I’m for that.  May it succeed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

2014 Global Nutrition Report: Actions and Accountability to Accelerate the World’s Progress on Nutrition

From the point of view of the authors, the report itself is an intervention against malnutrition: it is designed to help reframe malnutrition as a global challenge, to raise ambitions about how quickly it can be reduced, and to reenergize actions to reduce it.

Almost all countries suffer from high levels of malnutrition.  Countries should make a common cause and exploit opportunities to learn from each other. It is clear that the low-income countries do not have a monopoly on malnutrition problems and that the high-income countries do not have a monopoly on nutrition solutions. Failure to intensify action and find solutions will cast a long shadow, bequeathing a painful legacy to the next generation. Our generation has the opportunity—and the ability—to banish those shadows. To do so, we must act strategically, effectively, in alliances, and at scale. And we need to be held to account.

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Nov 20 2014

What Dan Glickman is doing these days: bipartisanship

Dan Glickman, former USDA Secretary (1995-2001) has been turning up in my mailbox newsletters a lot lately.  Here’s a small collection.

On making the connection between agriculture and health

The food, agriculture, health, hunger and nutrition sectors need to create new ways of working together that harness their shared commitment to improving health through food and nutrition. And we need government and industry to work together in a way that transcends typical political and business interests….The food industry can do more to reinforce healthy diets through marketing, incentives and other strategies, including product formulation, placement, packaging, and portion sizes. And government needs to amplify its existing efforts to ensure consistent and affirming nutrition and health messages for consumers.

On the need for bipartisan approaches

While a healthy, civil debate among those with differing viewpoints is an essential component of our democracy, the current partisan tone in government is impeding progress. Through the Democracy Project and events like Bridge-Builder Breakfasts, political summits and timely policy discussions, BPC [Bipartisan Policy Center ] is fostering an ongoing conversation about how to overcome political divides and help make our government work better.

He is a co-chair of AGree–Transforming Food and Agriculture

AGree seeks to drive positive change in the food and agriculture system by connecting and challenging leaders from diverse communities to catalyze action and elevate food and agriculture as a national priority.  [Here is what AGree agrees on]

And here he is on the implications of the midterm elections’ for the “rural-urban divide:” 

Notwithstanding the very strong farm and agricultural economy the past few years, the Democratic Party and its leadership are having a great deal of trouble connecting with farmers and rural citizens and small-town America…a sustained effort at the highest political level by Democrats to connect with rural issues and concerns is necessary if they want to broaden their popularity and build bigger and more successful electoral coalitions and succeed in this country’s many rural congressional districts.

…It is no secret that casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan were borne by a disproportionate number of young men and women from these areas. The economic recession has also hit rural America very hard and many towns have not seen much impact on their lives from the rebounding American economy.

The White House and Democratic Party gurus need to recognize that they are failing to connect with rural America….The future of American leadership on nutrition, farming and hunger is in jeopardy without positive action to rebuild and maintain these bipartisan coalitions.

In his post USDA years, Glickman has become a strong spokesman for bipartisanship and bipartisan decisions about how to link agricultural policy to health policy.

Wouldn’t it be nice if he succeeds?

Dec 11 2013

Food Policy Action releases handy Congress “scorecard” on food issues

Washington is such a mess that you can’t tell the players without a scorecard, and this one is really useful.

Food Policy Action to the rescue.

Food Policy Action is a project of the Environmental Working Group.  Ken Cook of EWG is its chair.  Tom Colicchio is listed as the first board member.

The 2013 National Food Policy Scorecard ranks each member of the Senate and House on their votes on food issues.

The interactive map lets you click on a state and see how our congressional representatives are voting.  According to the scorecard, 87 members are Good Food Champions.  We need more!

I looked up New York.  Senator Charles Schumer gets a perfect 100%.  Yes!

But Senator Kirsten Gillibrand only gets 67%.

How come?  Click on her name and the site lists her votes on key legislation.  Oops.  She voted against GMO labeling and against a key farm bill amendment on crop insurance.  If you click on the button, you get to learn more about this vote and the legislation.

This kind of information is hard to come by.  Food Policy Action’s scorecard is easy to use and performs a terrific public service.

Thanks to everyone responsible for it.

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