Last month, an unusual scuffle played out between two federal agencies over a controversial proposal by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to increase the speed of kill lines for poultry in slaughterhouses. But with testing from Consumer Reports last year revealing that 97 percent of raw chicken breasts purchased at retailers are contaminated with harmful bacteria, and with poultry workers already suffering from numerous job-related injuries, advocacy groups are vigorously opposed to the idea. The rule would also reduce the number of USDA inspectors required to ensure food safety, transferring some of that responsibility to the chicken and turkey companies themselves. But as one former inspector (who worked both for the USDA and the chicken industry) warned, plant workers are not properly trained for inspection, and they are too scared for their jobs to speak up. That’s why groups such as Food and Water Watch are taking out newspaper ads calling the proposal the “Filthy Chicken Rule.” Read rest at Al Jazeera America …
By Jason Blanchette and Michele Simon
Overconsumption of alcohol remains the third largest cause of preventable death in the United States, causing roughly 88,000 Americans to die prematurely each year. Moreover the costs of alcohol problems to society top $200 billion annually. The alcohol industry, in attempting to deflect blame away from its incessant and exploitative marketing practices, especially to youth, loves to keep the focus on illegal activities such as drunk driving. (Never mind that most alcohol harm stems from disease, crimes, and other forms of injury.)
By Michele Simon and Leslie Zellers
Some commentators have compared the current effort to legalize marijuana to the post-prohibition days of alcohol. And many advocates for marijuana legalization are making the comparison to alcohol. Indeed the entire campaign in Colorado in 2012 was called “Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol.” But if supporters of marijuana legalization are serious about this comparison, they might learn some valuable lessons from both alcohol and tobacco control. In each of these areas, advocates have spent decades figuring out what works and what doesn’t in regulating legal products that also have the potential for harm.
Ballot measure could become first sugary drink tax in California
Earlier this month, lawmakers in San Francisco introduced a bill that would tax sugary beverages at two cents per ounce, thereby setting off the latest big fight with Big Soda. The estimated $31 million in annual revenue would go to local health programs. Voters will decide the measure’s fate in November, with a two-thirds majority being required to pass.
Earlier this month, POLITICO’s Helena Bottemiller stirred things up with “The plot to make Big Food Pay” about the potential for tobacco-style litigation brought by states to recoup medical expenses incurred for diet-related health problems. Several other media outlets responded with knee-jerk negative reactions to the idea, mostly out of ignorance. So Paul McDonald, the attorney pitching the idea to several states, is now setting the record straight. He allowed me to post his op-ed in POLITICO, in which he aims to explain the legal theory and moral rationale. Download the article here.
The Other NRA: National Restaurant Association eviscerates the rights of customers, workers, and children
Food movement leaders tend to stick to their specific issues, whether it’s advocating for healthy food, fighting for workers’ rights or curbing marketing to children. For each of these issues, there are numerous food corporations that need to change. But there is one organization that conveniently provides us with one giant target for all of them: the National Restaurant Association.
By Michele Simon and Daniel Bowman Simon
Some local food advocates are applauding the new Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive program in the finally-passed farm bill. The idea is to provide cash incentives to participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (aka food stamps) for healthy eating. But a closer look reveals the celebration may be premature at best.
When I was asked yesterday by POLITICO to comment on a press release from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation celebrating the food industry’s alleged reduction in calories, I thought, Oh, that data we’ve been waiting for is finally is published. But I was wrong. As I reported last June, a collection of food companies calling themselves the “Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation” jumped the gun with a self-congratulatory release claiming to have made good on its 2010 “pledge” with the first lady’s Let’s Move campaign to reduce the number of calories in the food supply by 1.5 trillion.
by Michele Simon and Cara Wilking
Looking back at 2013, while the food movement made progress in certain areas (such as school food and GMO labeling), when it comes to exploitative food marketing to children meaningful change remains elusive. Let’s Move director and White House chef Sam Kass recently acknowledged the obvious when he said this issue was “really tough” given how much money is at stake for industry.
All we seem to hear from the major food corporations about marketing to children are self-serving promises and announcements of future changes. As public health lawyers, that got us wondering, who’s making sure even these minimal commitments are being kept? The question is worth exploring if we want to actually improve children’s diets—not just create positive PR buzz for Big Food. With reports of adults ever-deteriorating eating habits in 2013 coupled with appalling teen heart health, the health stakes are too high to just wait for the food industry to do the right thing.