by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Lobbies

Aug 11 2021

Feed the Truth on Corporate Transparency (or the lack, thereof)

Feed the Truth (FTT), an organization I’ve discussed previously and whose mission is to work “at the intersection of equity, democracy, and food justice to stop corporate control over the food we eat,” has just come out with the results of its new research on Big Food’s lack of transparency in political giving.

FTT attempted to discover the political spending levels of the ten largest food and agriculture corporations: ADM, Bunge, Cargill, Coca-Cola Company, JBS, Mars, Nestle, PepsiCo, Inc., Tyson Foods and Unilever.

FTT’s unsurprising conclusion: “despite the massive influence these corporations have on our health, economy, and the environment, there is very little publicly-available information about how they manipulate the political system to their advantage.”

This led FTT to develop The Food and Agriculture Corporate Transparency (FACT) Index.  This ranks the transparency of the corporations on a scale of zero to 100 on readily available disclosure of their spending on electioneering, lobbying, science, and charity.

Among the key findings:

Overall transparency scores:

  • Total: 2 (Bunge, Tyson) to 39 (Coca-Cola)
  • Electioneering: 0 (Bunge) to 20 (Mars).
  • Lobbying: 0 (Bunge, Tyson) to 9 (Coca-Cola)
  • Charity: 0 (Unilever, ADM) to 8 (Coca-Cola)
  • Science: 0 (PepsiCo, Mars, Unilever, JBS, Bunge) to 8 (Nestlé)

Coca-Cola ranks highest in part because of the transparency initiative it started in response to the furor over disclosure of its role in the Global Energy Balance Network.

I could have told FTT how hard it is to get information about food industry funding of science as well as all the other ways it uses funding to influence attitudes and policy.  I had my own version of these difficulties doing the research for Unsavory Truth: How Food Companies Skew the Science of What We Eat.

It’s great that FTT is bringing this problem up to date, and identifying what needs to be done about it.

Mar 4 2021

Feed the Truth: Draining the Swamp

Several years ago, Daniel Lubetzky, the founder of KIND bars, donated funds to create an organization, Feed the Truth, to investigate food industry influence on our food system.  I was part of a team that suggested names for members of the group’s board.  Once Lubetzky set up the funding, he has had nothing further to do with the group.  The board appointed Lucy Martinez Sullivan as its executive director.

She explains this group in a YouTube video.

As its first public action, Feed the Truth, along with Maplight, a group focused on exposing the influence of money in politics, has just published Draining the ‘Big Food’ Swamp [the Executive summary is here; the full report is here].

This report is about how the food industry exerts power.  It “exposes how the $1.1 trillion food and agriculture industry flexes its political muscle through a web of trade association lobbying and campaign spending, while operating behind the scenes to undermine public health, perpetuate inequality, and consolidate power.”

Some of the report’s findings:

  • In the last 10 years, the largest 20 food industry groups spent over 300 million dollars on federal lobbying.
  • Of nearly 6,300 food trade associations, the 20 largest spent more than 300 million dollars on federal lobbying in  the last 10 years.
  • Half of food trade lobbying came from only three groups: the National Restaurant Association, the American Beverage Association and the Consumer Brands Association.
  • The National Restaurant Association is lobbying relentlessly to block efforts to raise the national minimum wage.
  • The meatpacking industry is lobbying to keep workers on the job and to increase line speeds, despite the spread of COVID-19.
  • More than 80% of the food industry lobbyists at the largest trade associations are “revolvers,” or individuals who now lobby the officials and agencies they once worked for.
  • The top 20 food trade associations spent more in campaign donations to members of Congress who voted to overturn the election results than those that didn’t.

Feed the Truth also launched a petition calling on PepsiCo, a major member of all three of the top trade groups, to get its money out of politics.

This report is an impressive first step for this group.  I can’t wait to see what else it will do.

Resources

 

Feb 7 2018

Food industry lobbyists running the dietary guidelines?

This tweet certainly got my attention:

It referred to Alex Kotch’s article in the International Business Times about how White House lawyer Donald McGahn has granted a waiver of conflict of interest rules to allow Kailee Tkacz, a former lobbyist for the Snack Food Association and, more recently, for the Corn Refiners Association, to advise the USDA about the forthcoming 2020 dietary guidelines.

Ms. Tkacz also was food policy director for the Corn Refiners Association, which represents producers of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).

McGahn explained that this waiver would allow Ms. Tkacz “to advise the Secretary of Agriculture and other senior Department officials with respect to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans process.”

He says “it is in the public interest to grant this limited waiver because of Ms. Tkacz’s expertise in the process by which the Dietary Guidelines for Americans are issued every five years.”

The dietary guidelines historically have issued recommendations to consume less salt and sugar.  Snack foods are major sources of salt in U.S. diets.  Soft drinks sweetened with HFCS are major sources of sugars.

USDA is the lead agency for the 2020 guidelines.

Want to make some bets on what they will say about salt and sugar (a wild guess: the science isn’t firm enough to suggest eating less of either).

Nov 23 2016

Tonight is Thanksgiving Eve: Eat Pizza?

What with holiday travel and all, it’s a slow news week, so I am indebted to the American Pizza Community for a press release informing me of an American holiday I had no idea existed: Thanksgiving Eve.

Apparently this holiday comes with its own tradition: pizza.

“Pizza,” says the press release, “is tradition for millions of families on Thanksgiving Eve.”

According to the American Pizza Community (APC), pizza is frequently chosen around celebratory occasions and large family gatherings because having a highly-customizable, oven-baked meal delivered to your door is an easy choice for big crowds…The night before Thanksgiving is one of the five busiest days of the year for pizza orders.  Some of the larger pizza companies estimate that they will sell more than one million pizzas on Thanksgiving Eve.

How come?  According to the APC, which is a trade and lobbying association “a coalition of the nation’s large and small pizza companies, operators, franchisees, vendors, suppliers and other entities,”

  • Pizza offers wholesome-quality, customizable ingredients that are sure to satisfy a whole group.
  • Pizza is a flexible option: pick it up, dine in or have it delivered. Any way you slice it, it’s hot, fresh and easy.
  • Pizza is a low-stress choice.  You don’t have to pile everyone into a car to go out the night before a long day of travel.
  • Pizza is the perfect meal to bring people together and for many special celebratory occasions. It’s a convenient and communal meal that is meant to be shared, and is a real crowd pleaser.

The American Pizza Community’s “coalition was formed in 2010 to advocate for policies affecting pizza companies and operators including menu and labeling information, fair wages, work opportunity tax credit, background checks, tax policies and small business access to capital.”

This is the group that succeeded in getting Congress to insist that pizza is counted as a vegetable in school lunch programs, and is doing all it can to make sure that pizza places do not have to put calorie labels on their menus.

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Mar 11 2015

Study documents sugar industry influence on dental research in the 1960s and 1970s

A new study in PLoS Medicine provides documentary evidence of sugar industry manipulation of research on dental caries in the 1960s and 1970s.

The paper is a formal presentation of an article in Mother Jones (which I wrote about in a previous post).

The researchers are at UCSF, which sent out a press release:

A newly discovered cache of industry documents reveals that the sugar industry worked closely with the National Institutes of Health in the 1960s and ‘70s to develop a federal research program focused on approaches other than sugar reduction to prevent tooth decay in American children.

The archive of 319 industry documents, which were uncovered in a public collection at the University of Illinois, revealed that a sugar industry trade organization representing 30 international members had accepted the fact that sugar caused tooth decay as early as 1950, and adopted a strategy aimed at identifying alternative approaches to reducing tooth decay.

These approaches, as the article explains, involved encouraging the NIH to do research on mitigating or preventing tooth decay, which is fine in theory, but in practice distracted the dental research community from trying to discourage sugar consumption.

The analysis showed that in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the sugar industry funded research in collaboration with allied food industries on enzymes to break up dental plaque and a vaccine against tooth decay. It also shows they cultivated relationships with the NIDR and that a sugar industry expert panel overlapped by all but one member with the NIDR panel that influenced the priorities for the NIH tooth decay program. The majority of the research priorities and initial projects largely failed to produce results on a large scale, the authors found.

Understandably, the Sugar Association is not pleased.  Here is what the Sugar Association told Time Magazine:

It is challenging for the current Sugar Association staff to comment directly on documents and events that allegedly occurred before and during Richard Nixon’s presidency, given the staff has changed entirely since the 1970s. However, we are confused as to the relevance of attempts to dredge up history when decades of modern science has provided answers regarding the role of diet in the pathogenesis of dental caries… A combined approach of reducing the amount of time sugars and starches are in the mouth, drinking fluoridated water, and brushing and flossing teeth, is the most effective way to reduce dental caries.

As Stan Glantz pointed out in his blog post, “This sounds similar to the statement from Brown and Williamson Tobacco put out in 1995 in response to our first papers based on tobacco industry documents.”

Distracting researchers from focusing on underlying causes is a strategy perfected by the tobacco industry and copied widely by other industries making potentially harmful products, as shown clearly in the just released film, Merchants of Doubt (a must-see).

Aug 29 2014

Global Nutrition Report: How US Citizens Can Hold Government Accountable for Preventing Malnutrition

Lawrence Haddad, senior researcher at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), invited me to comment on how to strengthen accountability in the fight against malnutrition in the United States.

This is a contribution to the Global Nutrition Report, a project chaired by the Governments of Malawi and the UK as an outcome of the 2013 Nutrition for Growth Summit in London.

My comments are in response to this specific question:

Q.  How can citizens of the United States hold their government accountable for preventing and reversing malnutrition?

A.  This question has no easy answer.  To begin with, we see practically no cases of severe undernutrition among U.S. citizens, in the sense that it occurs in the developing world.  Only rarely, do adults or children exhibit overt clinical signs of vitamin or mineral deficiency, let along acute malnutrition.  Instead, in America we talk about “food insecurity,” defined by government agencies as consistent, dependable, legal access to enough food on a daily basis to support active healthy living.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) monitors the extent of food insecurity among the population in two ways.  It counts the number of individuals who apply and qualify for participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as Food Stamps), and it collects data from surveys and publishes the results in annual reports on Household Food Security.  By both measures, nearly 15 percent of the U.S. population is judged to be food insecure—one out of every six adults.  Nearly six percent of the population is considered to be severely food insecure and, therefore, at risk of malnutrition but not necessarily displaying clinical signs.

Americans who qualify as food insecure are more likely than average to be poor, single parents, African-American or Hispanic, and living either in large cities or in rural areas.  They also, paradoxically, are more likely to be overweight or obese.  An explanation for the lack of clinical signs of malnutrition and of overweight is that nearly 60 percent of those considered food insecure participate in one or more of the three largest federal food and nutrition assistance programs (SNAP, the Special Supplemental Program for Women, Infants, and Children or WIC, and National School Lunch Program.  An unspecified percentage also obtains free food from privately run charitable food banks or soup kitchens. As the USDA likes to explain, its 15 domestic food and nutrition assistance programs “form a nutritional safety net for millions of children and low-income adults” and account for more than 70 percent of USDA’s annual budget.

What the USDA says less about is the quality of that food.  SNAP has minimal limitations on what can be purchased with benefits, and retailers lobby hard to make sure program participants can continue to buy cheap, high-calorie foods and beverages.  WIC, in contrast, permits purchase of a limited number of foods meeting certain nutrition standards.  Recently, school meals have been required to meet nutrition standards, but these too are under lobbying pressure by food companies.

Because of the high cost of these programs—SNAP alone costs taxpayers $80 billion a year—arguments about what to do about food insecurity come down to matters of money.  They only rarely focus on ways to ensure that even the poorest Americans get enough food to eat, let alone healthy food.  Accountability, therefore, must confront the views of many congressional representatives that assistance programs represent “nanny-state” government and induce dependence among recipients.

Given this situation, American anti-hunger advocates are limited in what they can expect to accomplish in the current political era.  As one sympathetic Congressman, Jim McGovern (Dem-MA) once explained, hunger does not resonate with Congress.  Because the government already monitors food insecurity, the next steps must aim to get it to do something about the problem.  This means reducing poverty and income inequities (which in part means reducing educational inequities, providing a stronger safety net for single parents and those living in cities and rural areas, and reaching out to the 40 percent of people who qualify as food insecure but receive no federal food or nutrition assistance benefits.  It also means bringing anti-hunger and anti-obesity together to support healthier food options for low-income Americans.

All of this will cost money at a time when the interest of Congress in food assistance is only as a means to cut benefits.  This, in turn, means that the only way to fix the hunger problem in the United States is to change election campaign laws so that individuals who care about such issues have a chance of being elected.   Recent decisions of the Supreme Court in Citizens United and in McCutcheon make it clear that it favors no or insignificant limits on campaign contributions for corporations or wealthy individuals.    The one bright spot is the national movement that has emerged to obtain a raise the minimum wage, especially for restaurant and farm workers.  Most recipients of federal food assistance are employed, but at wages too low to bring them out of poverty.  Paying living wages would solve most problems of food insecurity in America.

 

Jun 27 2014

Lobbying in action: pizza!

This just in from Politico Morning Agriculture:

At their recent Capitol Hill fly-in, members of the American Pizza Community — which included representatives from Domino’s Pizza, Godfather’s, Little Caesars, Papa John’s and Pizza Hut — met with more than 70 congressional offices, according to a statement from the APC. Part of their ask was for lawmakers to back the Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act. The bill, which was introduced about a year ago by Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) and Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.), would exempt grocery stores from the ACA menu labeling requirements and allow restaurants to disclose calorie counts online.

American Pizza Community?  Indeed, yes.

The American Pizza Community is a coalition of the nation’s largest pizza companies, regional chains, local pizzerias, small franchise operators, supplier partners and other entities that make up the American pizza industry. This joint effort will highlight the importance of the pizza industry on American communities and promote policies that permit its continued success, including reasonable menu labeling standards, including small business owners in tax reform, commodity policies and employment and labor policies.

The APC knows how to work the system.  Meeting with 70 congressional offices takes some hefty organizational work.

This is, no doubt, how pizza came to be counted as a vegetable in the school lunch program.

Happy weekend!

MPeters1111117_Color_73311

 

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Jun 20 2014

New House Majority Leader represents Big Ag

I love reading Politico Pro Agriculture.  It comments this morning on the new Majority Leader in the House, Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who represents the San Joaquin Valley where Big Agriculture is worth $3 billion.  This comes from 16 commodities, among them cotton, garlic, cattle, tomatoes and wine grapes..

Pro Ag quotes Western Growers President and CEO Tom Nassif:

Majority Leader-elect McCarthy has provided critical leadership on a number of issues impacting the produce industry, including ensuring passage of a farm bill that recognizes the importance of fresh fruits, vegetables and tree nuts, ongoing work to negotiate a solution to our water crisis, and of course working to address the immigration needs of agriculture…We look forward to working this year with the new majority leader to bring relief to our drought stricken farmers and to finally fix our broken immigration system.

Pro Ag did some homework and checked the lobbying database on Open Secrets.

  • McCarthy’s 2013-14 campaign contributions from agribusiness PACs and individuals: $226,550.
  • McCarthy is third in rank among top House recipients of food and beverage contributions so far in 2014: $67,481.

As for what to expect from McCarthy?  Think Eric Cantor.

According to Vox‘s Ezra Klein,

It’s hard to come up with ways in which Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the California Republican who previously served as House Republican Whip, differs from Cantor. They both want to cut taxes. They both voted for the Ryan budget. They both want to repeal Obamacare. And, for all the talk of Cantor’s defeat being about immigration reform, McCarthy has basically the same position on immigration reform: he’s abstractly for immigration reform, but he’s not going to bring any solution to the problem up for a vote.

Business as usual, alas.