Posts Tagged ‘USDA’

Media coverage of legal basis for sustainability in dietary guidelines

As I posted last week, I conducted a legal analysis to counter the claim that considerations of environmental sustainability do not belong in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The same week, the USDA and HHS announced they would exclude sustainability from the final document not yet out, despite the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s recommendations that eating less meat and more plants is best, both for our own health and that of the planet. Below is a media round-up of coverage of my analysis.

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The legal basis for sustainability in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans

This week, the House Agriculture Committee is holding a hearing on the controversy surrounding the current update to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. I have written about the meat lobby’s tactics previously, and in May submitted a letter on behalf of plant-based food companies supporting the recommendation to eat less meat and more plants.

Today I am releasing a legal analysis aimed at countering USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack’s claim that the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee went beyond the statutory authority in recommending that sustainability be incorporated into dietary advice. As my analysis shows, the USDA and HHS would be well within its legal authority to include sustainability. In summary:

    • A plain reading of the statute does not preclude sustainability;
    • The Congressional intent was to further a broad agenda on health;
    • Previous DGA versions included issues beyond “nutrition and diet”.

You can download and read the analysis here. Thanks to My Plate, My Planet for supporting this project.

Oct. 7 update: You can also read my op-ed on this topic, published in The Hill.

Hampton Creek targeted by USDA-controlled egg industry program

Potential legal violations uncovered in secret PR effort to damage egg-free competitor

Hundreds of pages of disclosed communications from the American Egg Board reveal a coordinated two-year plan to undermine and attack Hampton Creek, the San Francisco-based food company, seen as a “threat” and “major crisis” to the egg industry.

Image result for usda logo

One of the most important ways that industrial animal agriculture promotes its products is through Congressionally-mandated “checkoff” programs. Each industry member pays into a collective fund that is controlled and managed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The American Egg Board is the egg industry’s checkoff program. Very specific rules govern how it operates, all supposedly overseen by the USDA. The Egg Board’s stated mission (which stems from federal law) is “to allow egg producers to fund to carry out proactive programs to increase demand for eggs and egg products through research, education and promotion.”

And yet, USDA’s recent response to a Freedom of Information Act request reveals a number of highly questionable activities that likely violate federal law. The documents (summarized here) are mostly email exchanges between Egg Board executives and others in the egg industry, or with PR consultants, and reveal a disturbing pattern of attacks on Hampton Creek over a two-year period from 2013-2014. (There’s no indication that the campaign has stopped.)

As I documented last fall, Hampton Creek’s early success has touched a nerve in the industrial food industry. These documents show that the lawsuit by Unilever over the start-up’s Just Mayo product was child’s play compared to the Egg Board’s activities. Below is a summary of the most egregious communications.

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Lawsuits Allege Earth’s Best and Similac Organic Infant Formulas Violate Organic Standards

Federal court in New York says – for the first time – consumers can sue over violations of organic law

I am often asked, can we trust the USDA organic seal? My answer is for the most part yes, because it’s based on clearly defined legal standards, as opposed to say, the word “natural.” But two class action lawsuits against leading makers of organic infant formula are making me rethink that answer. One case is against Abbott Laboratories alleging its Similac Advance organic infant formula contains 26 (more than half) ingredients not allowed in organic products; specifically: “irradiated substances, synthetic compounds, or produced from hazardous substances.”

The other case, perhaps more disturbingly, accuses natural food giant Hain Celestial Group of false and misleading labeling by violating the organic standards with its Earth’s Best Organic infant formula, along with numerous other products. (Both cases were filed in New York, the plaintiffs live in New York and California.) From the complaint:

Behind the picturesque red barn of the Earth’s Best logo lies a chemical soup. Of the 48 ingredients in Earth’s Best Organic Infant Formula more than half – 26 are not permitted in organic foods by federal law. More than three-fourths – 38 of the ingredients are synthetic compounds, including artificial flavors, artificial preservatives, artificial colors, toxic compounds, and hazardous substances.

Earth’s Best Organic formula dominates the organic formula market with 65% dollar share. The judge in that case recently made an important legal ruling that could significantly impact future litigation regarding organic products. In its defense, Hain Celestial tried to claim that the federal Organic Foods Production Act preempts or trumps the state-based consumer deception claims made by the plaintiffs. (Preemption is an common defense in lawsuits like this.) But the judge didn’t buy it, denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss and allowing the case to move forward. In doing so, the court said:

[T]his Court rejects the premise that once a certifying agency has passed on a product’s organic status, a state-law verdict may not deem the sale or labeling of that product as “organic” false or misleading.

This ruling is important because it allows for a private right of action under state consumer protection laws for alleged violations of federal organic standards. In an apparent attempt at damage control, Hain Celestial put out a press release on Monday claiming its “full line of Certified USDA Organic Formulas [is] made with pure, high quality ingredients for babies and toddlers.” The release also notes: “The organic formula industry continues to grow and is relied on by parents deeply.” That much is true. That’s why it’s especially troubling if parents have been deceived into feeding their babies formula labeled certified organic that in fact contains numerous unapproved ingredients.

(Disclosure: I occasionally consult with one of the law firms involved; I was not paid to write this.)

Media Coverage for Plant Foods Coalition and Dietary Guidelines

As I posted earlier this week, I submitted comments on behalf of new coalition of plant food companies to support the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s recommendations to lower red meat and processed meats and increased plant foods. I am pleased that the following media outlets picked on this story. More at:

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New Plant Foods Coalition Enters Dietary Guidelines Debate

Logos_Plant_Foods_Coalition_DGA_LetterEvery sector of the food industry–most of them unhealthy–has something to say about how Americans should eat. But we rarely hear the voices of healthier food companies in shaping the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. I organized this new coalition of plant food companies to help fill that void.

Research shows that more consumers are decreasing their meat consumption and turning to plant-based options. Therefore, it’s time for the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (revised every five years) to encourage this trend toward healthy eating. Today, this new food industry coalition submitted a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services, in response to the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s report, making these main points:

  • We agree with the advisory committee that additional measures are needed to encourage consumption of fruits and vegetables as part of a healthy diet.
  • We support the advisory committee’s conclusion that the dietary guidelines should include a recommendation to “lower red and processed meats.”
  • The Dietary Guidelines for Americans should specifically recommend eating plant protein sources such as legumes, soy foods, wheat gluten, seeds, and nuts, in place of red and processed meats. 
  • Claims that red meat and processed meats are “nutrient dense” are misleading because they ignore all the harmful components of meat, and the fact that plants are often nutritionally superior.
  • We endorse the advisory committee’s recognition of sustainability as an essential component of federal dietary guidance, and that a shift away from animal foods towards a plant-based diet “is more health promoting and is associated with less environmental impact.”

You can read the entire letter (or the summary) and learn more about the coalition members at: You can also submit your own comments before the May 8 deadline here.

Tell the feds: “Yes to less meat, more plants”

Science and public health could finally prevail in federal dietary advice

Every five years the federal government updates the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The idea is to help Americans eat right, while informing nutrition standards for food assistance programs such as school meals. The “Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee” (DGAC) has spent the past two years reviewing research and holding public hearings. The process is rigorous and the committee is not exactly radical.

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Making Sense of Seals of Approval

These days health-conscious consumers are increasingly seeking out food products not only with fewer ingredients and a “clean label”, but also foods produced in a manner that minimizes harm to the environment, among other ethical business practices. And it’s not enough to claim your product is healthy or sustainable with just words; to get that much-needed boost in a highly competitive marketplace, many food companies are spending the extra money to obtain third-party certification for various claims.

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Offering new legal services with The Food Law Firm

Food and Beverage Marketing: Beyond Compliance

Over the past 18 years as a lawyer and public health advocate, I have scrutinized the ways that food companies use misleading or illegal marketing to unfairly influence consumers. I will continue to call out these deceptive practices as long as the industry continues to use them.

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Have the Feds Made School Food Worse with Government-Approved Junk?

Last week I attended the School Nutrition Association’s annual meeting in Boston, a gathering of the nation’s school food service workers. While most of the controversy lately has focused on the federally-required improvements to nutrition standards for school lunches, getting lost in the shuffle are new standards coming online this fall for school snacks and beverages. Read rest at …

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