Currently browsing posts about: Food-policy

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.

Apr 26 2013

Parke Wilde’s Food Policy is now out

For those of us who teach food policy and politics, a new textbook is most welcome, especially when it comes from Parke Wilde.  Wilde is now a professor at Tufts and a food policy blogger, but I first met him years ago when he was a reporter for the Community Nutrition Institute’s Nutrition Week.

His first book has just been released.

Parke Wilde.  Food Policy in the United States: An Introduction.  Earthscan, 2013.

Large Image

I blurbed it:

Food Policy in the United States is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand how our food system really works or to take action to change it.  Professor Wilde provides a tough but balanced and decidedly nonpartisan overview of the facts behind the full range of policy areas—among them  agricultural support, safety, dietary guidance–that affect food production and consumption.   If you want to join the food movement to improve the system, here’s how to find out where to start.

Enjoy!

Jun 28 2012

PLoS Series on Big Food: Weeks #1 and #2

The online, open-access journal Public Library of Science – Medicine, better known as PLoS Medicine, is doing a series of articles on Big Food.  I’m its co-editor, with David Stuckler in the U.K.

Here’s what’s online so far. 

Editorial: PLoS Medicine Series on Big Food: The Food Industry Is Ripe for Scrutiny, by the PLoS Medicine Editors, PLoS Medicine, 19 Jun 2012 | info:doi/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001246

Essay: Big Food, Food Systems, and Global Health, by David Stuckler, Marion Nestle, PLoS Medicine, 19 Jun 2012 | info:doi/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001242 

Essay: Food Sovereignty: Power, Gender, and the Right to Food, by Rajeev C. Patel, PLoS Medicine, 26 Jun 2012 | info:doi/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001223

Policy ForumSoda and Tobacco Industry Corporate Social Responsibility Campaigns: How Do They Compare?, by Lori Dorfman, Andrew Cheyne, Lissy C. Friedman, Asiya Wadud, Mark Gottlieb, PLoS Medicine, 19 Jun 2012 | info:doi/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001241

Policy Forum: Manufacturing Epidemics: The Role of Global Producers in Increased Consumption of Unhealthy Commodities Including Processed Foods, Alcohol, and Tobacco, by David Stuckler, Martin McKee, Shah Ebrahim, Sanjay Basu, PLoS Medicine, 26 Jun 2012 |info:doi/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001235

Twitter chat: To follow the Twitter chat that took place on June 27, search for #plosmedbigfood.

More next week.  Stay tuned.

Jun 15 2012

The food politics of…broccoli !

I have a soft spot in my nutritionist’s heart for broccoli. It’s a lovely vegetable when fresh and lightly cooked, and is loaded with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber, and all those other good things that nutritionists like me encourage everyone to eat and enjoy.

I expressed some of this fondness for broccoli in a 1997 Commentary in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences with this prescient title: “Broccoli sprouts as inducers of carcinogen-detoxifying enzyme systems: Clinical, dietary, and policy implications.”

 

 

In it, I quoted President (#41) Bush’s now famous statement:

I do not like broccoli…And I haven’t liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it. And I’m President of the United States, and I’m not going to eat any more broccoli!’

Even in the 1990s, broccoli had policy implications.

And now the New York Times has come up with a lengthy front-page investigative report on how broccoli came to be used by conservatives as a metaphor for the role of government in health care reform.

The story begins with a question asked by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.  If the government can require people to buy health insurance, maybe it could force people to buy broccoli: “Everybody has to buy food sooner or later,” he said. “Therefore, you can make people buy broccoli.”

It turns out that broccoli did not spring from the mind of Justice Scalia. The vegetable trail leads backward through conservative media and pundits. Before reaching the Supreme Court, vegetables were cited by a federal judge in Florida with a libertarian streak; in an Internet video financed by libertarian and ultraconservative backers; at a Congressional hearing by a Republican senator; and an op-ed column by David B. Rivkin Jr., a libertarian lawyer whose family emigrated from the former Soviet Union when he was 10.

The Times report is well worth reading, not least as a case study in how conservatives frame issues.  My favorite part is the sidebar on “the broccoli trail.”  Here’s the example from April 2012:

Rush Limbaugh, on his radio program:

“You’re telling me that you want the Supreme Court to decide that the government can tell you that you have to buy health insurance and broccoli?”

In late March, New York Times columnist (and Nobel-prize winning economist) Paul Krugman wrote of “Broccoli and Bad Faith.”

Let’s start with the already famous exchange in which Justice Antonin Scalia compared the purchase of health insurance to the purchase of broccoli, with the implication that if the government can compel you to do the former, it can also compel you to do the latter. That comparison horrified health care experts all across America because health insurance is nothing like broccoli.

Why? When people choose not to buy broccoli, they don’t make broccoli unavailable to those who want it. But when people don’t buy health insurance until they get sick — which is what happens in the absence of a mandate — the resulting worsening of the risk pool makes insurance more expensive, and often unaffordable, for those who remain. As a result, unregulated health insurance basically doesn’t work, and never has.

Maybe the best we can do with all this is to eat our broccoli and hope that it keeps us out of the health care system.

Jul 6 2011

How to pay for a better food system?

At TPMDC, Brian Beutler explains why the U.S. does not have enough money to pay for food assistance programs, safety regulation, better school food, or support for sustainable agriculture.

 

May 6 2011

AGree: “Can’t we just all get along?”

The title of this post is a quote from Steve Clapp’s article today in Food Chemical News about the unspoken message behind formation of a new group called AGree (Agriculture, Agree, get it?).  AGree, according to its gorgeous website, aims to “advance the well-being and prosperity of people in the United States and abroad by transforming food and agriculture policy.”

AGree is a bold new initiative designed to tackle long-term agricultural, food and rural policy issues. AGree has significant funding from eight of the world’s leading foundations for at least the next eight years…We also recognize the interconnected nature of agriculture policy globally and we seek to break down traditional silos and work across issue areas.

The funders? These are heavy hitters: Ford Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, The William & Flora Hewlett Foundation, The David and Lucile Packard Foundation, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, The McKnight Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation and The Walton Family Foundation.

Who is running the show? AGree is to be led by former Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman; Gary Hirshberg, chairman and CEO of Stonyfield Farm; Jim Moseley, former USDA deputy secretary in the first Bush administration; and Emmy Simmons, former assistant administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

What’s the plan? AGree will “Build bridges among groups that have not traditionally worked together…This approach is needed because policy reform efforts targeting the food and agriculture system have traditionally operated in many independent silos – governmental, political, stakeholder, geographic and substantive – that have made transformative change impossible.”

Steve Clapp quotes Dan Glickman saying that AGree is going to “operate outside the partisan political process” because “Food policy is too important to be left to the food industry.”

What are we to make of this? It’s much too soon to say but it reminds me of two previous efforts to forge consensus among stakeholders.

One is a group that I belong to called PAPSAC, which stands for Private and Public, Scientific, Academic, and Consumer Food Policy Group.  The group, organized by Ray Goldberg, has been meeting for about 15 years, first at the Harvard Business School and more recently at the Kennedy School.  The meeting brings together high level CEOs of food and agribusiness companies, government officials, people in business and public relations, academics, and advocates to exchange views in private.  Its original purpose was to try to find middle ground on controversial issues such as genetically modified foods.   But one of the unstated hopes was that consumer advocates would relent on opposition to GM foods.

The second example is the ill-fated Smart Choices.  This, you may recall, was an attempt of the Keystone Center to get food companies and academics to agree on common standards for front-of-package labeling.  When it became evident that food companies were calling the shots, the consumer advocates dropped out.  The result?  The Smart Choices logo appeared on Froot Loops and failed the laugh test.

The problem with attempts to build consensus is that the sides aren’t equal.  Agribusiness calls the shots or won’t play.

I’m curious to know how the leadership intends to proceed.  At the Future of Food meeting in Washington this week, Gary Hirshberg made it clear that he is a strong proponent of organic agriculture and strongly against GM.  I don’t see easy bridges between stakeholders with this particular issue, but maybe AGree will start with easier ones.

If I read between the lines correctly, AGree will convene meetings and produce policy papers.  The group seems to be steering clear of the 2012 Farm Bill until after it’s passed.

As with all such things, let’s wish the AGree leaders luck and give them a chance to see what they can do.

Feb 21 2011

Sam Kass’s speech to the International Association of Culinary Professionals

Sam Kass, White House chef and Senior Policy Advisor for Healthy Food Initiatives gave the keynote address to members of the The International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) at its New York City Regional Conference on Friday.

The IACP is much more than an organization of cooks.  Every member I talked to is engaged in some incredible farming, gardening, school, or other kids’ project, each more exciting than the next.

Kass spoke to an audience of people who care deeply about food, cooking, health, and kids, and eager to hear what he had to say.  Me too.

The core of his speech was a review of the accomplishments of the First Lady’s Let’s Move campaign, which has just completed its first year.   These, in sum, are considerable:

Over this past year, we’ve seen the first signs of a fundamental shift in how we live and eat.

We’ve seen changes at every level of our society—from classrooms to boardrooms to the halls of Congress.

We have begun to see this change because people from all over the country, parents and teachers, doctors and small business owners, have started demanding change.

…Parents asked for more fresh, nutritious food in communities.  So we’re working to bring more grocery stores into underserved areas.

Parents wanted healthier, more affordable options on those grocery store shelves.  So we collaborated with food companies and retailers to provide healthier products….

Parents asked for more information about the food you buy for your kids.  And today, we’re seeing better, clearer labels on beverage cans….

Parents asked for better food in your kids’ schools—the kind of balanced meals they are trying to make at home.  So we’re working to put salad bars in 6,000 schools across the country.  Congress passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, historic legislation that will provide healthier school meals to millions of American children.

Parents asked for healthier communities that can sustain healthy families.  And through Let’s Move Cities and Towns, 500 mayors have committed to tackling obesity in their communities….

Parents asked for practical, affordable, real-life advice to keep kids healthy.  So we launched a public service campaign and a website—letsmove.gov—with helpful tips on exercise and nutrition….

If we can do all this in the first year, just imagine what we’ll achieve next year and the year after that….

These kinds of changes will not come easily….There will certainly be many roadblocks and setbacks.  But we need to keep working to break through and work in a collaborative way.

Here’s the speech in its entirety. It may sound speech-written and not overwhelming, but consider the context:  This is the first time food, nutrition, and health have gotten anywhere near this kind of attention at that level of government (at least, food writer Laura Shapiro tells me, since the time of Eleanor Roosevelt).

For the First Lady to take on these issues is truly extraordinary.  Mrs. Obama has no legislated power whatsoever.   She only has the power of leadership and persuasion.

That the kind of changes she is trying to make will not come easily is a breathtaking understatement.  The roadblocks are formidable.   Mr. Kass made it abundantly clear that the White House is trying to do what it can, and then some.

His speech was moving and inspiring.  It’s up to us to cheer them on in every way we can, and also to keep the pressure on to do even more.

Feb 17 2011

The Lancet on the UK’s anti-food policy

It’s a slow food news week (relatively) so I’m getting caught up on things I meant to post but didn’t.  I think this editorial from last November’s Lancet is worth a look, even now.
McPolicy: bringing you the Big Mac society

If you were a UK Health Secretary faced with soaring rates of obesity, alcohol misuse, and diet-related diseases, what would you do? Were you to take an evidence-based approach, you might consider minimum pricing per unit of alcohol and restrictions on its availability. You might look at toughening the regulation of how the least healthy foods are marketed to children.

You could even demand that manufacturers reformulate their least healthy products to meet minimum nutritional standards. Or you could, if your name was Andrew Lansley, dismiss all of the above and instead invite representatives of McDonald’s, PepsiCo, and the drinks giant Diageo among others, to submit their policy suggestions on how best to deal with the UK’s public-health crises for a forthcoming governmental white paper.

After the initial surprise, it can still take a while for the bizarre reality to sink in—that the companies who have profited the most from the epidemics of obesity and alcohol misuse should now be responsible for setting the agenda on public health simply beggars belief.

…The creeping influence of corporate power on public policy is not news to anyone in the UK, but the breathtaking speed and scale by which the UK coalition Government is embracing the agenda of business at the expense of the health of the electorate is an unwelcome novelty. By putting the interests of big business at the heart of public-health policy, Lansley is ensuring that the UK’s big society will not be shedding the pounds any time soon.

The Lancet is a British medical journal with unusual and highly commendable editorial interests in international public health.  I’m happy to see it take on questions about the role of corporations in obesity.  The British Food Standards Agency was doing a good job of trying to institute policy approaches to obesity prevention, but these are not popular with corporations.  Recall: eating less is very bad for business.

And this kind of resistance to policy approaches is not just a British or European problem.  Our corporations also prefer what they do to be voluntary. So this is a cautionary tale.

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