by Marion Nestle
Nov 7 2012

The election is over (whew): what’s next?

My post-hurricane Manhattan apartment still does not have telephone, internet, or television service, so I followed the election results on Twitter.

I knew that President Obama had been reelected when the Empire State Building turned on blue lights.

What’s ahead for food politics?

With the election out of the way, maybe the FDA can now:

  • Release final food safety rules (please!)
  • Issue proposed rules for front-of-package labels
  • Issue proposed rules for revising food labels
  • Require “added sugars” to be listed on labels
  • Define “natural”
  • Clarify “whole grain”
  • Release rules for menu labeling in fast-food restaurants

Maybe the USDA can

  • Release nutrition standards for competitive foods served in schools

And maybe Congress can pass the farm bill?

As for lessons learned:

  • The food industry has proven that it can defeat consumer initiatives by spending lots of money: $45 to $50 million on California’s Proposition 37 (GMO labeling), $4 million on soda tax initiatives in Richmond and El Monte.
  • But if enough such initiatives get started, food companies might get the message?
The election leaves plenty of work to do.  Get busy!
  • Calorie and nutritional information was not required on food labels until 1990. Country-of-origin labeling wasn’t required until 2002. If we continue the struggle to label GM foods it will happen. Other states, such as Washington, are already organizing a petition for Initiative-522 in 2013.

  • Anthro

    From what I have read elsewhere (science blogs), it wasn’t just the food industry that opposed Prop 37. Too much of the proposal is inspired by irrational fear, rather than simply, “the right to know”. Many scientists see such measures in the same light as the anti-vaccination movement, climate change denial, or conspiracy theories.

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  • With all respect Anthro, it wasn’t the proposal that was inspired by irrational fear. The proposal was quiet common-sense: people have a right to know what they are buying, and in this case, eating. Think back to the good ol’ days when business was first taking over our food. They used sawdust for filler in breads. Arsenic was a common ingredient (god only knows why). It’s like that song from Les Miserable, sung by the lecherous innkeeper about being master of the house. He had total control over what went into the food he served, and “liver of a cat” is one of the lines.

    This is what we can expect from big business if they are not held accountable to the public. Prop 37 was another step trying to make that happen.

    “Irrational fear” is left to the individual who is doing the buying. People don’t trust the studies because they were paid for by the companies making the food. Whether that’s irrational or not, we still have a right to know what we’re buying.

  • Cathy Richards

    I love that the soda industries have to spend money to fight these campaigns. It spreads their wealth around to advertising companies and local decision makers — sort of self-imposed socialism. Plus, it will either cut into their North American profits, or the price of pop will have to increase, or they’ll look around them and think “hey, maybe we should have some healthier choices”.

  • Ewan R

    “The food industry has proven that it can defeat consumer initiatives by spending lots of money: $45 to $50 million on California’s Proposition 37 (GMO labeling)”

    Whereas had they not spent this money the food industry (plus assorted snake oil salesmen) could have proven it can implement consumer initiatives by spending lots of money (an order of magnitude or so less, but the point still stands)

    I suppose you’re right though, when a consumer initiative is on the ballot only those in favor should be allowed to proselytize over it.

  • Food initiatives will continue to be very slow, taking years, etc.

    However, with the younger generations of new parents, the Millennials, Processed Food Companies aka PFC are very concerned for their bottom line.

    These new parents are more food conscious than any other generation as a whole. They do not trust food companies, nor have brand loyalty. They want alternative distribution models.

    Read more

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  • Simon CAT

    Anthro says that science blogs were opposed to prop 37 and talked about the “irrational fear” of opponents to genetically engineered foods. Lets remember that these scientist have a vested interest since for many of them GM is there bread and butter. I am not convinced that GMOs are safe. In fact, even the Snell review that is supposed to prove gmos are safe found abnormalities in the immune system and other organs. Haven’t we learned already that industry supports research with its perspective? The bottom line is we have no long term data to prove they are safe. Shouldn’t we be using the precautionary principle (see below) instead of adding something to food and the environment?
    The precautionary principle or precautionary approach states if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public or to the environment, in the absence of scientific consensus that the action or policy is harmful, the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those taking the action.

  • Even though I’m not a CA resident, I’m so disappointed about Prop 37 failing. Agree with Simon–most of the supposedly “scientific” opponents were paid big $ to lobby against it. I think a bright spot is it really opened the eyes of many Americans and raised a lot of awareness about GMO foods.

  • SAO

    Genetic Modification is a technique, not an ingredient. Knowing something is genetically modified tells you little. The question is, how? Is the problem that GM soybeans have a gene making them immune to Round-up? Or that they have been doused with Round-up? Frankly, I find the latter more scary than the former.

    I’m for consumer information, but I’m not sure the label GMO tells us much. If anything, it deters companies that are interested in making GMOs that allow the fruit or vegetable to be grown with fewer, not more chemicals.