Food Issues Too Political for the White House?

Big Mac Meal

Big Food and Big Ag are doing their best to keep their products on the shelves, on the tables, in school lunches, and in the minds of children, all the while posturing to offer healthier foods. Big Money is also in the act and the lobbying is hot and heavy.

Is it getting too hot in the kitchen? Marion Nestle took a look at the latest direction the First Lady’s Let’s Move campaign is going and noted: “Apparently, she has given up on encouraging food companies to make healthier products and stop marketing junk foods to kids.” Ms. Obama announced that she will now focus on getting kids to be more active.

More exercise isn’t likely to get the attention of any lobbyists. It may be the safe path, considering the following activities.

The Potato and Pizza lobbies have been putting pressure on the USDA to allow more French fries, pizza and salt while putting off the requirement that more leafy greens and whole grains be required.

And folks like General Mills, Kellogg, Post and Quaker Oats selling desserts disguised as breakfast cereals. The Environmental Working Group analyzed 84 different brands of cereals sold by these four companies and found:

  • 56 cereals contain more than 24 to 26 percent sugar by weight
  • 10 cereals contain more than 210 milligrams of sodium
  • 71 cereals contain more than 140 milligrams of sodium
  • 7 cereals have more than 1 gram of saturated fat
  • At least 26 cereals are not predominantly whole-grain

The junk food industry, including soda makers, are doing their level best to continue to market and sell their products and prevent any constraint of their trade by government agencies or even “advisory committees.” PepsiCo, Kraft Foods, McDonald’s, the American Beverage Association, et al – have put together a “Sensible Food Policy Coalition” which has spent nearly $60 million lobbying federal agencies and Congress to derail any federal proposals.

Kids are being taught to prefer sugar, fat, salt and fast food. According to Fast Food FACTS: Evaluating Fast Food Nutrition and Marketing to Youth (2010) children as young as age 2 are seeing more fast food ads than ever before, and restaurants rarely offer parents the healthy kids’ meal choices. The average preschooler (2-5 years) saw 2.8 TV ads for fast food every day in 2009.

Nestle said, “The political cost of fighting the food industry is surely the reason for the change in Mrs. Obama’s rhetoric.”

If you follow the money, it sure looks like it!

To see how the $42 million spent by the food and beverage industries in 2010 (the last full year on record) breaks down, check out the tally on OpenSecrets.org.

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