by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Food-policy

Jun 11 2019

My latest publication: food and nutrition policy primer

How the US food system affects public health is a matter of intense current interest. “Food system” means the totality of processes through which food is produced, transported, sold, prepared, consumed, and wasted.4 Policies governing these processes emerged piecemeal over the past century in response to specific problems as they arose, with regulatory authority assigned to whatever agency seemed most appropriate at the time.5 Today, multiple federal agencies oversee food policies. For some policy areas, oversight is split among several agencies—the antithesis of a systems approach.

US food policies deal with eight distinct purposes, all of them directly relevant to public health:

  • Agricultural support: Overseen by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), agricultural support polices are governed by farm bills passed every five years or so. These bills determine what crops are raised and grown, how sustainably, and the extent to which production methods contribute to pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Food assistance: The USDA also administers food assistance for low-income Americans through programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), the Women, Infants, and Children program, and school meals.
  • Nutrition education: This policy is set forth in dietary guidelines revised every five years since 1980 (overseen jointly by the USDA and the US Department of Health and Human Services) and in the MyPlate food guide (USDA).
  • Food and nutrition research: The National Institutes of Health and the USDA fund studies of diet and disease risk.
  • Nutrition monitoring: The USDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are responsible for keeping track of the quantity and quality of the foods we eat and how diet affects our health.
  • Food product regulation: Rules about food labels, health claims, and product contents are overseen by three agencies: the USDA for meat and poultry; the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for other foods, beverages, and dietary supplements; and the Federal Trade Commission for advertising.
  • Food safety: Regulation of food safety is split between the USDA for meat and poultry and the FDA for other foods.
  • Food trade: More than 20 federal agencies are involved in regulating the export and import of food commodities and products, among them are the FDA, the USDA, and the Department of Homeland Security.

This list alone explains why advocates call for a coordinated national food policy.6

The food policy primers in this issue of AJPH address the critical links between agricultural policies and health (Miller et al., p. 986) and key components of food assistance policies: direct food aid to the poor (Brownell et al., p. 988) and nutrition standards for school food (Schwartz et al., p. 989). Their authors are well-established policy experts whose thoughtful comments on the political opposition these programs face make it clear why food system approaches to addressing hunger, obesity, and climate change are essential.

Politics stands in the way of rational policy development, as the editorial by Franckle et al. (p. 992) suggests. Although its authors found substantial bipartisan support for introducing incentives to improve the nutritional quality of foods purchased by SNAP participants, congressional interest in this program remains focused almost entirely on reducing enrollments and costs. Please note that for a special issue of AJPH next year, I am guest editing a series of articles on SNAP that will provide deeper analyses of that program’s history, achievements, needs for improvement, and politics. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, how can US public health advocates achieve a systems approach to oversight of the eight food and nutrition policy areas? A recent report in the Lancet suggests a roadmap for action. It urges adoption of “triple-duty” policies that address hunger, obesity, and the effects of agricultural production on climate change simultaneously.7 For example, a largely—but not necessarily exclusively—plant-based diet serves all three purposes, and all federal food policies and programs, including SNAP, should support it. The primers and editorial should get us thinking about how to advocate a range of food system policies that do a better job of promoting public health. Read on.

CONFLICTS OF INTEREST: The author’s work is supported by New York University retirement funds, book royalties, and honoraria for lectures about matters relevant to this comment.

1. IFAD, UNICEF, WFP and WHO. The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the WorldRome, ItalyFood and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations2018Google Scholar
2. GBD 2015 Obesity Collaborators; Afshin A, Forouzanfar MH, Reitsma MBet al. Health effects of overweight and obesity in 195 countries over 25 yearsN Engl J Med2017;377:1327CrossrefMedlineGoogle Scholar
3. Vermeulen SJ, Campbell BM, Ingram JSIClimate change and food systemsAnnu Rev Environ Resour2012;37:195222CrossrefGoogle Scholar
4. Institute of Medicine; National Research Council; Nesheim MC, Oria M, Yih PT, eds. A Framework for Assessing Effects of the Food System. Washington, DCNational Academies Press2015Google Scholar
5. Nestle M, Lee PR, Baron RBNutrition policy update. In: Weininger J, Briggs GM, eds. Nutrition Update. Vol 1. New York, NYWiley1983:285313Google Scholar
6. Bittman M, Pollan M, Salvador R, De Schutter OA national food policy for the 21st century2015. Available at: https://medium.com/food-is-the-new-internet/a-national-food-policy-for-the-21st-century-7d323ee7c65f. Accessed March 17, 2019. Google Scholar
7. Swinburn BA, Kraak VI, Allender Set al. The global syndemic of obesity, undernutrition, and climate change: the Lancet Commission reportLancet2019;393(10173):791846CrossrefMedlineGoogle Scholar
Feb 15 2019

Weekend reading: A common food policy for the European Union

The International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food) has put together a thoughtful, detailed blueprint for creating a food policy that unites and integrates agriculture and health policies.  This report is a model for what we should and can do in the United States.

What is this about?

A Common Food Policy is needed to put an end to conflicting objectives and costly inefficiencies. The policies affecting food systems in Europe – agriculture, trade, food safety, environment, development, research, education, fiscal and social policies, market regulation, competition, and many others – have developed in an ad hoc fashion over many years. As a result, objectives and policy tools have multiplied in confusing and inefficient ways. Gaps, inconsistencies, and contradictions between policies are the rule, not the exception. Ambitious anti-obesity strategies coexist with agri-trade policies that make junk food cheap and abundant…

Its point?

A Common Food Policy would put an end to these costly inefficiencies by changing the way that policies are made: it would be designed to bring different policies into coherence, establish common objectives, and avoid trade-offs and hidden costs (or ‘externalities’). In other words, it would bring major benefits to people and the planet, and would ultimately pay for itself.

Documents

Jan 28 2019

New Lancet report: The Global Syndemic: Uniting Actions to Address Obesity, Undernutrition, and Climate Change

The Lancet has been busy.  Last week, it published a blockbuster report on the need for worldwide dietary changes to improve human health and that of the environment.  I posted about this EAT-Forum report on Friday.

Now, The Lancet releases yet another report, this one taking a unified approach to dealing with the three most important nutrition issues facing the world: Malnutrition (undernutrition), obesity, and the effects of our food production and consumption system on the environment and climate change—for which this report coins a new term: The Global Syndemic.

This report breaks new ground in identifying the food industry as one of three main barriers to ending this “Syndemic.”  I’ve added the numbers for emphasis.

  • Powerful opposition by [1] commercial vested interests, [2] lack of political leadership, and [3] insufficient societal demand for change are preventing action on The Global Syndemic, with rising rates of obesity and greenhouse gas emissions, and stagnating rates of undernutrition.
  • New social movement for change and radical rethink of the relationship between policymakers, business, governance and civil society is urgently needed.
  • The Commission calls for a global treaty to limit the political influence of Big Food (a proposed Framework Convention on Food Systems – modelled on global conventions on tobacco and climate change); redirection of US$5 trillion in government subsidies away from harmful products and towards sustainable alternatives; and advocacy from civil society to break decades of policy inertia.

Wow.  This is telling it like it is—at long last.  From the press release:

  • A key recommendation from the Commission is the call to establish a new global treaty on food systems to limit the political influence of Big Food.
  • The food industry’s obstructive power is further enhanced by governance arrangements that legitimise industry participation in public policy development, and the power that big corporations have to punish or reward governments by relocating investment and jobs.
  • Regulatory approaches to product reformulation (eg. salt and sugar reduction), labelling and marketing to children are needed because industry-led, voluntary approaches have not been effective.

Yes!

The documents

The press

▪ The Guardian
The Times (London)
Irish Farmers Journal

Additional press, posted January 30

Newswires (syndicated in international outlets):

UK:

US:

Rest of world:

Dec 28 2017

Civil Eats: The Year in Food Policy, 2017

Civil Eats reviews what happened this year:

It was a tumultuous year for food policy in the United States.

The year started off with several efforts by the Obama Administration to safeguard efforts at wide-scale food system change—such as the long-awaited formalization of new animal welfare rules in organics and the so-called “GIPSA rule,” which promised to level the playing field for small-scale meat producers in a consolidated marketplace. But once Donald Trump took office, things began to shift rapidly.

Take a look.  The article, by Twilight Greenaway, refers to Civil Eats’ articles throughout the year.

Nov 17 2017

Weekend perusals: Food system policy databases

Policy wonks, students, advocates:  If you are looking for data on what countries are doing to promote healthier people and food systems, check out these resources:

Advocates: these are great sources of ideas.

Nov 16 2017

Food Policy Action’s 2017 Scorecard on Congressional Votes

Food Policy Action has released its annual scorecard, evaluating how our federal legislators vote on food issues.  In case you haven’t noticed, they aren’t voting on much these days so there wasn’t much to score.

In the Senate, there was only one vote (on the nomination of Scott Pruitt as USDA Secretary), although ten bills were introduced.

In the House, there were five votes and 11 bills.

Overall scores averaged 49%—dismal.

The site has a handy interactive map; click on it to see how your legislators are voting.

In case you want to see just how badly Congress is doing, I’ve been posting these scorecards since they started:

One thought: maybe it’s just as well.

Oct 18 2017

Keeping up with food politics: new reports

Reports related to food politics flood in.  Here are a few from the last couple of weeks.

The Nation: Special Issue on The Future of Food: Setting the Table for the Next Generation

Global Alliance for the Future of Food: Unravelling the Food-Health Nexus: Addressing Practices, Political Economy, and Power Relations to Build Healthier Food Systems.

Multiple channels across food systems threaten human health. The resulting health impacts are severe, but are rarely examined together, systematically. Each impact appears as discrete and unrelated to the next, but through a systems view their interrelationships, linkages, and complex associations are revealed. The health impacts of food systems disproportionately affect the most vulnerable in our communities, and are compounded by climate change, poverty, inequality, poor sanitation, and the prevalent disconnect between food production and consumption. The true costs of these impacts are staggering…Over the coming months we will be tracking reactions and feedback to determine phase II of research for reviewing the positive health impacts of food systems, and begin to plan a global  convening focused on the food-health nexus.

IPES (International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems): Too Big to Feed

Consolidation across the agri-food industry has made farmers ever more reliant on a handful of suppliers and buyers, further squeezing their incomes and eroding their ability to choose what to grow, how to grow it, and for whom….The rush to control plant genomics, chemical research, farm machinery and consumer information via Big Data is driving mega-mergers – and stands to exacerbate existing power imbalances, dependencies, and barriers to entry across the agri-food sector. Dominant firms have become too big to feed humanity sustainably, too big to operate on equitable terms with other food system actors, and too big to drive the types of innovation we need.

EUPHA (European Public Health Association): Healthy and Sustainable Diets for European Countries

A new research agenda for Europe in the field of sustainable food systems is needed. Recent experience has demonstrated that there are many separate, relevant domains of research (e.g. involving nutrition, food science, sustainability, agriculture, economics, social science as applied to farmers and farming communities, research into acceptability of food products to the public, and other research fields as well), but that researchers in these various areas rarely interact with each other. Accordingly, what is needed is a new European research infrastructure devoted to the multidisciplinary aspects of food research, “from field to fork”, as is often stated.

Aug 9 2017

Starting out in food policy: advice

I get lots of inquiries like this one from readers working at not particularly satisfying jobs.  This one came with the subject line: Wanted:

My passions really lie in health and wellness, improving the food industry, and ensuring everyone has equal access to healthy, sustainable foods, and an understanding of nutrition and how to be healthy….I’ve read your book What To Eat, and am currently reading Food Politics…As I also want a career that involves educating people about what they are putting in their bodies, and the complexities of the industry, I would really appreciate any advice you can offer with regards to graduate programs to look into, steps I should be taking, career paths to consider, etc. I am happy to answer any questions you have about my interests or experiences if that’s helpful.

Here’s what I said:

Hi.  I don’t know any shortcuts.  If you want to be treated like an expert, you have to be an expert.  If you want to talk to people about food, learn as much about food, nutrition, physiology, and human behavior as you can.  If you want to talk about the food industry, this too will take work–and lots of time, if you want to do this well.  You need to figure out where you want to fit into the current system.  Do you want personal clients?  To work for institutions?  To write?  To work with community groups?  To teach?  If so, at what level?  One way to do this is to go online and look at lots of agriculture, food, nutrition, public health, and public policy graduate programs.  Lots.  You will soon figure out which ones sound the most like what you are looking for.  Pick the one that feels like the most fun, and go for it!  Time will pass.  Knowledge will accumulate.  Expertise will come.  Courage!