Joel Leftwich has left his job as senior director for PepsiCo’s public policy and government affairs team (since March 2013) to become staff director for the Senate Agriculture Committee now led by Pat Roberts (R-Kansas).
In some ways, it’s a perfectly logical appointment. Before joining PepsiCo, Leftwich worked for Roberts as a legislative aide from 2005 to 2010 and as deputy staff director for the Ag Committee from 2011 to 2013.
But his connection to PepsiCo raises concerns. The Ag committee will be dealing with several issues involving sodas and snack foods opposed by some members of Congress:
- Reauthorization of WIC, the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program (its requirements for healthy foods are always under pressure).
- Preservation of the school nutrition standards authorized by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (under attack by the food industry and its friends in Congress).
- SNAP nutrition standards (there is a movement to make sodas ineligible for SNAP-EBT purchases).
- Issuance of the 2015 dietary guidelines, always under pressure not to say anything direct about not drinking sodas.
- Issuance of the new food labels. The soda industry opposes putting in “added sugars.” While this is FDA’s purview, not USDA’s, the Ag Appropriations Committee governs FDA’s appropriations.
And on the state level, it’s worth taking a look at what the Texas Commissioner of Agriculture is up to, courtesy of Bettina Siegel’s The Lunch Tray: “cupcake amnesty.”
Clearly, agricultural policies affect public health in highly prominent ways.
That’s why we need to do a much better job of connecting food policy to health policy.
And that’s why having a leading PepsiCo lobbyist in charge of agricultural committee staff raises serious concerns about conflict of interest.