by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Food-industry

Sep 11 2018

Why food companies should not have a role in formulating obesity policy

I was interested to read FoodNavigator-Asia’s account of food industry comments on what to do about obesity is Australia.

By all reports, two-thirds of Australian adults meet definitions of overweight or obesity, along with a quarter of all children.  A Senate committee is collecting ideas about what to do about this, including those from the food industry.

Food-Navigator-Asia has taken a look at some of the submitted comments, particularly in light of comments from medical groups encouraging social, environmental, regulatory and medical interventions, and arguing that food companies should be kept out of formulating policies due to their inherent conflicts of interest.

The article quotes three companies.

Coca-Cola Amatil says taxes would be counterproductive because it is already reducing the sugar in its products.

Fonterra (a dairy company) says obesity is not the problem; instead, underconsumption of dairy products is the problem.

Nestlé [no relation] blames consumers; it is trying to reduce salt and sugar in its products but the public isn’t buying them.  It also blames government, which it says should do a better job of educating the public about diet and health.

Obesity poses a formidable problem for food companies making junk foods.  They have stockholders to please.  They cannot be expected to voluntarily act in the interest of public health if doing so affects profits.

That is why food companies should have no role whatsoever in developing policies to prevent or treat obesity.

Jul 6 2018

Weekend Reading: Food Citizenship (I’m in it)

Ray Goldberg.  Food Citizenship: Food System Advocates in an Era of Distrust. Oxford University Press, 2018.

As should be obvious from this cover, I have a special interest in this book.  For more than 20 years, I’ve been attending an annual meeting of food industry executives, entrepreneurs, and a sprinkling of advocates, government officials, and academics brought together by its author, Ray Goldberg, to try to encourage mutual understanding if not agreement.

When the meeting started, Ray was an agribusiness professor at the Harvard Business School.  After his retirement, the meeting moved to the Kennedy School of Government.  It still continues.

This book consists of Ray’s interviews with dozens of people who have attended this meeting over the years.  Ray interviewed people with an enormous range of involvement in food as well as of opinion about what should be done to improve food systems.

If truth be told, I always felt like a spectator at this meeting, and I am enormously surprised and honored to see that my interview comes first in the book, and that Ray mentions it in his introduction and conclusion.

I think the book is worth reading.  Or, as it happens, watching.

Oxford has posted the videotaped interviews online.  Here’s mine.

Jun 15 2018

Keeping tabs on the food industry: Access to Nutrition Index

Access to Nutrition has just published its 2018 global report.  Its Global Index:

Measures companies’ contributions to good nutrition against international norms and standards and includes a separate ranking of the world´s leading manufacturers of breast-milk substitutes (BMS).

The report summarizes its findings:

The 2018 Index shows the world’s biggest F&B companies have stepped up their efforts to encourage better diets, mostly through new and updated nutrition strategies and policies, improved commitments on affordability and accessibility, better performance on nutrition labeling and health and nutrition claims, and more disclosure of information across categories. Nevertheless, ATNF has serious concerns about the healthiness of the world’s largest global F&B manufacturers’ product portfolios.

Access to Nutrition ranks the European companies, Nestlé, Unilever, and Danone, highest on its lists.

Its “serious concerns”?

  • Poorly defined reformulation targets
  • Unclear approaches to making healthy products for affordable and accessibe
  • Continued irresponsible marketing to children
  • Inadequate employee education programs
  • Inadequate support to breastfeeding mothers
  • Inadequate labeling
  • Inadequate support for public health measures

On this last one:

Indeed.

 

 

Jun 12 2018

Biggest global food companies, according to Forbes

Forbes has published a ranking of the top 2000 global companies (all kinds, not just food) by a composite score of revenue, profit, assets, and market value.

Forbes summarizes some of the information for food processing companies.  By its measure, Anheuser Busch, Nestlé, and PepsiCo are the top three.

Coca-Cola, however, ranks #209, a big drop from last year’s #86.  It did not have a good year last year.

You can sort the list by name or category.  I did that for four categories: Beverage, Food processing, Food retail, and Restaurants.

Walmart does not show up as a food retailer; Forbes considers it a Discount Store, even though food accounts for nearly half of Walmart’s revenues, nearly $200 billion a year.

Here are the food, beverage, retail, and restaurants that show up as among the top 250 companies, worldwide.  I only included sales and profits in this  table; you would have to add in assets and market value to understand the ranking system.

Food, beverage, retail, and restaurant companies among the biggest 250 companies worldwide.

RANK  COMPANY SALES

$ Billions

PROFITS

$ Billions

24 Walmart, US 500.3*  9.9
41 Anheuser-Busch, Belgium  56.4  7.9
48 Nestlé, Switzerland  91.2  7.3
102 PepsiCo, US  64.0  4.9
103 Unilever, Netherlands  60.6  6.8
126 Kraft-Heinz, US  26.2  11.1
209 Coca-Cola, US  33.7  1.4
211 Mondelēz International, US  26.2  3.2
239 Danone, France  27.8  2.8
241 McDonald’s, US  22.3  5.4

*About 40% of sales are from food.

This is why Walmart is the elephant in the food-business room.

May 29 2018

Pay inequality in the food business

The New York Times describes the enormous gap between the pay of company chief executives and their employees.

Its two printed pages of lists compare CEO total annual compensation (in millions of dollars) to the median pay of employees (in $ thousands).  

Median means half the employees get that amount or more, but the other half gets that amount or less.

I looked for the data on companies that produce, food, beverage, or agricultural products.  I could not find many (where is Coca-Cola?).  Several of the companies of interest—Monsanto, Sysco, and Procter & Gamble, for example—list the pay of the CEOs, but not employees.

Even so, the comparison is striking.  Repeat: CEO pay is in $ millions; worker pay is in $ thousands.

COMPANY CEO TOTAL ANNUAL

COMPENSATION,

$ MILLIONS

MEDIAN WORKER PAY,

$ THOUSANDS

Mondelez   42.4   42.9
Weight Watchers   33.4     6.0
PepsiCo   25.9   47.8
Walmart   22.2   19.2
McDonald’s   21.8    7.0
Archer Daniels Midland   15.8   57.3

The Times interactive lists provide calculations of the ratios (and its account explains the limitations of these data—part-time work, etc).

If you need quantifiable evidence for income inequality, here it is.

Dec 27 2017

Planet Fat: The New York Times series on global obesity

Since September, the New York Times has been investigating how the food industry markets its products in the developing world, and how this marketing is encouraging a rising prevalence of obesity and its health consequences. The series is called Planet Fat.   This is the complete set to date, in reverse chronological order.

If you haven’t read them, this week is a good time to catch up.  Enjoy!

One Man’s Stand Against Junk Food as Diabetes Climbs Across India

India is “sitting on a volcano” of diabetes. A father’s effort to ban junk food sales in and near schools aims to change what children eat.

Dec. 26, 2017

 

Dec. 23, 2017

 

Dec. 11, 2017

 

Nov. 13, 2017

 

Oct. 2, 2017

 

Oct. 2, 2017

 

Sept. 16, 2017

 

Sept. 17, 2017

 

Sep 12 2017

How Big Food does politics in Washington

Big Food trade associations got a meeting at the White House to argue that the deadlines for implementing the new Nutrition Facts panel and GMO labeling need to be synchronized (translation: delayed as long as possible).

Here’s who came to the meeting with the White House Office of Management and Budget:

  • The Grocery Manufacturers Association
  • National Confectioners Association
  • Food Marketing Institute
  • International Dairy Foods Association
  • American Frozen Food Institute
  • SNAC International

We know about the meeting because the White House released a record of it.

The current compliance dates:

  • July 26, 2018 for implementing the Nutrition Facts Panel
  • July 29, 2018 for when the USDA is supposed to release rules for GMO labels, presumably starting the process of public comment and years before implementation

The meeting participants provided two handouts:

A reality check: go to your local supermarket.  Lots of food producers are already using the new Nutrition Facts Panel.

This is a consumer-unfriendly request.

We don’t need more delays.

Jul 29 2016

Brazil’s food revolution is working!

Bridget Huber of The Food and Environment Reporting Network (FERN) has produced a don’t-miss” article in The Nation: “Welcome to Brazil, where a food revolution Is changing the way people eat: How the country challenged the junk-food industry and became a global leader in the battle against obesity.”

As she explains, Latin America is leading worldwide opposition to food industry marketing, and much is happening in Brazil.

She writes about the advocacy work of Carlos Monteiro, Professor of Nutrition in the School of Public Health, University of Sao Paolo, who says:

The local food system is being replaced by a food system that is controlled by transnational corporations…this dietary deterioration doesn’t just harm bodily health but also the environment, local economies, and Brazil’s rich food traditions. We are seeing a battle for the consumer.

She further explains:

Over the last 30 years, big transnational food companies have aggressively expanded into Latin America. Taking advantage of economic reforms that opened markets, they’ve courted a consumer class that has grown in size due to generally increasing prosperity and to antipoverty efforts like minimum-wage increases and cash transfers for poor families. And as sales of highly processed foods and drinks have plateaued (and even fallen, in the case of soda) in the United States and other rich countries, Latin America has become a key market…In recent years, Brazil has inscribed the right to food in its Constitution and reformed its federal school-lunch program to broaden its reach while bolstering local farms.

And in 2014, the Ministry of Health released new dietary guidelines that made healthy-food advocates across the world swoon [I did a post on them when they were released].  Monteiro helped lead the team that wrote them; the guidelines transcend a traditional nutrition-science frame to consider the social, cultural, and ecological dimensions of what people eat. They also focus on the pleasure that comes from cooking and sharing meals and frankly address the connections between what we eat and the environment.

Huber’s investigative report is long and detailed, and well worth the read.

And it comes with a great graphic comparing the situation in Brazil with that of the U.S. (this is just an excerpt):

Those of us advocating for food systems that are healthier for people and the planet have much to learn from our colleagues in the South.

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