In the almost two years I’ve been writing The Lunch Tray, I’ve told you about one dispiriting episode after another in which Big Food’s dollars and lobbying have blocked sensible and critically needed efforts to improve children’s health. (Remember how Congress, at the urging of frozen food manufacturers, agreed to continue treating pizza as a school food vegetable? Or how the food industry killed purely voluntary federal guidelines to rein in the marketing of junk food to children?)
That’s why I was fascinated — and sickened — by a comprehensive Reuters report issued today, “Special Report: How Washington went soft on childhood obesity,” which gives a highly detailed accounting of how food and beverage lobbyists have scotched one legislative effort after another in the public health arena. Put bluntly:
At every level of government, the food and beverage industries won fight after fight during the last decade. They have never lost a significant political battle in the United States despite mounting scientific evidence of the role of unhealthy food and children’s marketing in obesity.
Some of the figures in the report are stunning:
. . . the Center for Science in the Public Interest, widely regarded as the lead lobbying force for healthier food, spent about $70,000 lobbying last year — roughly what those opposing the stricter [children's advertising] guidelines spent every 13 hours, the Reuters analysis showed.
The report is not only highly critical of Congress, but also of the Obama administration and Mrs. Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative, both supposed champions of anti-childhood-obesity efforts. (I have also been critical of Mrs. Obama in the past).
Reuters describes a White House visit by executives from Big Food and children’s media, companies with a combined market value of more than $350 billion:
In the weeks after the meetings, proponents of tougher [children's advertising] standards said, neither the president nor the First Lady spoke out for the work on healthy food guidelines that had been drafted by the administration’s own agencies. And industry representatives said their White House lobbying — which also included calls, letters and visits to the White House — proved successful on a hot political issue.
Nicholas W. Papas, a spokesman for the White House, disputed the notion that it had failed to champion the work of its own agencies . . .
But Papas could not point to any specific example of the president or First Lady voicing support for the working group report. Lobbyists on both sides of the issue and two key members of Congress said the administration stood back at crucial junctures, allowing Congress time to thwart the effort.
I urge you to read the entire Reuter’s report for an eye-opening education on the role of unfettered corporate spending in our government.
So what’s the answer? How do ordinary consumers get their voices heard against such powerful, well-funded adversaries? It seems to me the only avenue is the direct expression of our views outside traditional channels. While I’m the last person to claim that the success of my recent Change.org petition would be easily replicable, it did demonstrate the tremendous power of social media and grassroots efforts to get consumer voices heard, changing government policy in a mere nine days and giving industry a real wake-up call.
I’ll have more musings on that topic in the coming days.
[hat tip: Dana Woldow of PEACHSF.org for sending me the Reuters piece.]
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