Media coverage of legal basis for sustainability in dietary guidelines

By Michele Simon, Cross-posted from Eat Drink Politics

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.

Continue reading Media coverage of legal basis for sustainability in dietary guidelines

Hampton Creek targeted by USDA-controlled egg industry program

Michele Simon, Cross-posted from Eat Drink Politics

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.

AmericanEggBoard egg

Continue reading Hampton Creek targeted by USDA-controlled egg industry program

The end of chicken?

by Michele Simon   @MicheleRSimon  and  Jamie Berger   @jamiecberger July 20th, 2015

Cross posted from Eat Drink Politics and Al Jazeera

While the western United States is suffering from crippling drought, the Midwest is reeling from an unprecedented outbreak of avian flu, mostly among egg-laying chickens and other forms of poultry.

The numbers are staggering. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 223 outbreaks in 15 states have been identified over the past six months, affecting more than 48 million birds, with more cases expected. The hardest-hit states, all of which have declared states of emergency, are Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska and Wisconsin. About 11 percent of the nation’s egg-laying hens have been slaughtered out of fear that they might be infected.

Continue reading The end of chicken?

Has the American Society for Nutrition Lost All Credibility?

By Michele Simon, cross –posted from Eat Drink Politics

In my new report, I expose the American Society for Nutrition (ASN), the nation’s leading authority of nutrition scientists and researchers, for its cozy relationships with the likes of PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Nestle, McDonalds, Monsanto, Mars, and even the Sugar Association. Such conflicts of interest are similar to those exposed in my previous report about the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Powerful junk food companies purchase “sustaining partnerships” from the American Society for Nutrition, gaining access to the nation’s leading nutrition researchers at their annual meetings, and in their policy positions. ASN’s “Sustaining Member Roundtable Committee” includes PepsiCo’s Chief Scientific Officer and the Chief Science Officer at National Dairy Council.

Continue reading Has the American Society for Nutrition Lost All Credibility?

Meat lobby peddles doubt to undermine dietary guidelines

Cross–posted from Al Jazeera

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, updated every five years, never fails to cause a stir. For the current revision, released in February, a federally appointed scientific committee — after a two-year review of the latest research and numerous public hearings — has recommended (PDF) lowering consumption of red meat and processed meat. Continue reading Meat lobby peddles doubt to undermine dietary guidelines

New Plant Foods Coalition Enters Dietary Guidelines Debate

Every 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. Continue reading New Plant Foods Coalition Enters Dietary Guidelines Debate

And Now a Word from our (Australian) Sponsors

Reposted from Eat Drink Politics

aussiesponsorsJust as most western nations do, Australia suffers significantly from diet- related chronic diseases. Heart disease is the leading cause of death, killing one Australian every 12 minutes. Diabetes is also a serious health concern and has been on the rise in recent years, according to the Australian government.Three out of five people who suffer from diabetes also suffer from heart disease. Especially troubling is how the indigenous population of Australia suffers from diabetes at three times the rate of the general population. Given these serious public health problems, all preventable through healthy eating, it behooves the nation’s leading nutrition professionals to be honest with the Australian people.


The 2013 report, “And Now a Word from Our Sponsors,” also from Eat Drink Politics, found that the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in the United States has a serious credibility problem due to its myriad conflicts with the junk food industry. For example, dietitians can earn continuing education credits from Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, and at their annual meeting, attend sponsored sessions by Nestlé and lobbyists for high fructose corn syrup. This sort of cozy relationship with the same companies that are contributing to the very problems dietitians are supposed to help prevent seriously undermines that profession’s credibility.


Sadly, a very similar situation exists within Australia’s dietetic profession. The Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA), representing more than 5,000 members, claims to be “the leader in nutrition for better food, better health and well-being for all.” But that can’t be true when the organization is compromised by serious conflicts of interest, which cast doubt on the organizations’ dietary recommendations and policy positions.


Read the full report.

Walmart’s Hunger Games: How America’s Largest How America’s Largest Employer and Richest Family Worsen the Hunger Crisis

re-posted from EatDrinkPolitics


In the United States, 49 million individuals suffer from hunger, including 15.8 million children. In the last three years, the number of participants in the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly called food stamps) grew by 42% to more than 47 million Americans. The growth in SNAP eligibility is not just due to people who can’t find work, but also because many people are under- employed or in jobs where they are paid too little to cover their own food costs.


The hunger crisis in the United States is the result of larger economic factors at play. Today, income inequality is at its highest levels since the 1920s. While corporate profits are reaching record levels, the majority of American families are working harder for less and average wages are at the lowest point since 1948.


Men and women are looking for fair pay for their hard work, but low wages, erratic scheduling and involuntary part-timing are keeping them from supporting their families, including putting a warm dinner on the table at night.


At Walmart – our country’s largest employer – too many workers are unable to provide food for their families because they are paid poverty wages and cannot get full-time, consistent hours.


Walmart and the Walton family are at the center of a profit-building empire that allows them to build their wealth off of workers’ inability to afford food.


In addition to paying workers so little that too many rely on public assistance, Walmart and the Waltons are building their wealth with income from food stamps.


And while Walmart and the Waltons often tout their anti-hunger charities, this giving, through its huge public relations push, shifts the conversation away from addressing the larger food insecurity issues the corporation and its owners are creating.


The conversation they want to avoid is how Walmart and the Waltons have helped to create the hunger crisis in America. They also have the ability – more than any other business – to lift hundreds of thousands of working families out of poverty by improving jobs at its stores, which would, in turn, reduce hunger across the nation.


Walmart Sets the Standard for Low- Pay in Retail and the Economy


A close look at the causes of hunger in America shows the overlap with the symptoms of the Walmart economy. And that is no coincidence.

In the U.S. today, the fastest growing job sector is low-wage retail jobs, with one in every 10 retail employees working at Walmart. With its size and reach nationwide, Walmart’s pay and other practices set the standard for the retail industry and drive down pay in other industries as well.

Estimates of hourly Walmart wages vary, but one study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that Walmart cashiers average just $8.48/hour, while another industry report found the average pay to be $8.818 per hour. At this rate, an employee who works 34 hours per week, which is Walmart’s definition of full-time, is paid $15,500 per year, which is about $8,000 below the federal poverty line for a family of four.

Walmart has confirmed that the company pays the majority of its workers less than $25,000 a year. As a result, many Walmart workers are at or near the federal poverty line and are unable to feed and clothe their families and provide basic necessities for their children.


Walmart’s Systematic Part-Timing Keeps Take Home Pay Low


Since 2006, the retail and wholesale sector has cut one million full-time jobs while adding 500,000 part-time jobs. As many as 600,000 Walmart workers currently work part-time, although many want to work full-time and are pushing for additional hours. The company intensified its hiring of temporary workers last year, while continuing to deny full-time hours to many employees who want them.


Read more on Walmart’s Hunger Games

Big Food Uses Dirty Tricks in Ballot Fights Over GMO Labeling, Soda Taxes

Editor’s Note: In Tuesday’s election, voters in Colorado rejected a measure to require labeling of foods made with genetically modified ingredients. A similar measure in Oregon did better but appears likely to lose as well. And in California, Berkeley voters approved a soda tax, but San Francisco voters rejected such a tax. The story below, written by Michele Simon before the election, provides the background for these contests.


cross-posted from Al-Jazeera America

cocacola dupont monsanto pepsi

On Nov. 4, voters in three Western states will decide four food-related ballot measures that seem to have little in common: The two state-level measures (in Oregon and Colorado) would require genetically engineered (aka GMO) foods to be labeled as such, and two local initiatives in California (in San Francisco and Berkeley) would place a small tax on sugary soft drinks.


But they do have something in common. A large portion of the opposition for all four measures is being funded by two megacorporations: Coca-Cola and PepsiCo. Moreover, the opposition is using many of the same tactics.


Let’s start with the money — and there’s lots of it. In Oregon the biggest donors to the $16.3 million fund opposing the GMO-labeling measure, after biotech giants Dupont and Monsanto, are PepsiCo ($1.4 million) and Coca-Cola ($1.17 million), according to reporting by The Oregonian. Supporters of the measure have raised a respectable $6.7 million so far.


In Colorado the opposition has raised more than $11 million so far, compared with only $440,000 by GMO labeling proponents. Again, Monsanto and Dupont are the largest donors to the “no” campaign, with PepsiCo coming in third, with $1.65 million donated so far, followed by Coca-Cola, with $1.1 million. PepsiCo has a huge stake in these battles. The largest food corporation in the nation, it owns far more than just beverages; the numerous brands under its Frito-Lay and Quaker Oats divisions will also be affected by the passage of GMO labeling laws.


Meanwhile in California, the beverage industry is spending a staggering amount of money to defeat the two soda tax measures. In San Francisco the “no” campaign has just topped $9 million, compared with only $225,000 raised by the measure’s proponents. Across the bay in Berkeley, Big Soda has raised $1.7 million, an astounding figure, given the city’s small size — about 100,000 residents. (Two years ago, industry giants spent close to $2.5 million defeating a similar measure in Richmond, also east of San Francisco.)


Clearly Big Soda — which likes to claim it cares about communities — has a lot of money to throw around to try to buy votes.


The best lies money can buy


So what does all that money get Big Soda? One big bag of dirty tricks.


For GMO labeling, the opposition was able to defeat other ballot measures in California and Washington State mainly by scaring voters into thinking food prices would increase dramatically if GMO labels were required, despite the lack of credible evidence to back up this claim. In Oregon and Colorado, the opponents are trotting out the same tired arguments, claiming the measures would increase grocery bills by hundreds of dollars per year. Never mind a recent report from Consumers Union that estimates that requiring GMO labels would cost only $2.30 per person annually.


Similarly, Big Soda is using money-related fearmongering to dissuade California voters from imposing soda taxes. In San Francisco the opposition is exploiting residents’ anxiety over the city’s affordability. The campaign’s website — tellingly named — declares, “The last thing we need is a tax that makes it even more expensive to live and work in San Francisco.” But as blogger Dana Woldow has pointed out at the alternative daily BeyondChron in her excellent series tracking Big Soda’s tactics, soda companies care only about getting low-income communities’ dollars, not about their health and well-being; just consider how the industry targets communities of color with excessive marketing. Moreover, many of these populations suffer disproportionately from health problems caused by drinking too much soda, such as diabetes.


In Berkeley the “no” side is engaging in similar scare tactics by calling the soda tax regressive, suggesting that higher prices will affect poor people the most. But as sustainable-food advocate Anna Lappé (and Al Jazeera contributor) pointed out in The Nation, “Big Soda seems to care about poor people only when a soda tax hits the ballot.”


The food and beverage industry buys credibility by paying others to carry its message to voters.


Hiding behind the locals

Another tactic being deployed in both the GMO labeling and soda tax battles is astroturfing, a common corporate strategy in which lobbyists hide behind a front group or other sympathetic representatives with local and grass-roots credibility. Given their obvious biases, the CEOs of Coca-Cola and PepsiCo can’t exactly go door to door or appear in TV ads to explain why voters should reject GMO labeling or soda taxes. Instead, industry buys credibility by paying others to carry their message to the voters.


In Colorado for example, the “no” campaign has Don Ament as its spokesman in a TV ad opposing GMO labeling. Ament is identified as a “former agriculture commissioner for the Colorado Department of Agriculture,” which is true. But his LinkedIn profile listed his role as a lobbyist for J. Andrew Green and Associates for the past 24 years. Apparently, once word of this got out, Ament scrubbed that job from his profile; an experienced lobbyist, after all, is out of step with the “farmer” image the ads try to portray. Last year in Washington the opposition similarly enlisted the former head of the state’s agriculture department to appear on TV ads urging people to vote “no.”


In the two soda tax battles, astroturfing has reached absurd heights. In San Francisco the industry front group, which calls itself the Coalition for an Affordable City, recruited campaign workers to march in the city’s Chinatown against the measure, posting photos to Facebook showing people holding signs and wearing pro-soda-industry T-shirts. Maureen Erwin, a political consultant working pro bono for the pro-soda-tax campaign, told me these marchers were paid for their appearance. To make the point, Erwin showed up at the rally carrying a sign that read, “This pretend rally is brought to you by Coke and Pepsi.”


And as I wrote in February, The San Francisco Bay Guardian caught Big Soda operatives signing up numerous unwitting local businesses to their list of supporters. In some cases, low-level employees signed on without authority and other businesses were no longer even open.


Finally, in Berkeley, Big Soda is paying young people to pass out literature at transit stations and go door to door. One group of canvassers shunned a Mother Jones reporter, saying they weren’t allowed to speak to media. In The Nation, Lappé described a neighbor’s experience with a canvasser: “He said he was working for a City Council member opposed to the tax, but when asked which one, he couldn’t come up with a name. The City Council is unanimously in support of the measure.”


But Lappé told me she thinks her neighbors are wise to what’s going on and is confident the measure will pass. “Across the board, the people I talk to here are feeling increasingly turned off by a soda industry that thinks it can buy our vote,” she said.


Much is at stake this November for the GMO labeling and soda tax efforts, on both sides. Some think if a soda tax measure can’t pass in liberal Northern California, then it can’t pass anywhere. Similarly, with two states having lost GMO labeling ballot measures already, the last thing that movement needs is another defeat at the polls. On the flip side, a loss for the food and beverage industry on any of these four measures will inspire more cities and states to take up the fight.


The good news is that the more we identify these shady lobbying tactics and dirty tricks and expose the moneyed interests behind them, the less effective the industry efforts will be.


Food Companies Should Obtain Legal Protection to Look Beyond Profit

Re-posted from Al Jazeera

organicIn a marketplace full of greenwashing, I often scoff at the various certification programs that allow for-profit businesses to promote themselves as being sustainable or otherwise socially responsible.


But a closer look at a certification dubbed B Corp suggests real promise. Companies with B Corp certification are for-profit ones that meet certain public benefit standards. The private certification is offered by a nonprofit called B Lab, which uses a point system to assess companies in the areas of governance, workers, community and the environment. Businesses that gain the certification can place the B Corp logo on its marketing materials — like the Fair Trade label for coffee.


These B Corporations (which undergo the aforementioned private certification process) are not to be confused with benefit corporations (a legal status for for-profit companies allowed in certain states). But the rising popularity of B Corporations and the growing number of states — in just a few years, 27 — that have passed laws allowing benefit status, are related. explained the advantages of the legal designation, saying, “Incorporating as a benefit corporation legally protects an entrepreneur’s social goals by mandating considerations other than just profit.” In other words, including social responsibility in a company’s legal status allows flexibility for companies that care about more than just the bottom line.


The same philosophy — of prioritizing positive social and environmental practices — guides certified B Corporations. And last month they got a big boost with the promise of $4 million in investment money from the venture-capital firm Collaborative Fund and CircleUp, a funding platform for nontech startups. CircleUp previously raised more than $10 million in investment funds for B Corporations, including $2.38 million for Peeled Snacks, an all-organic dried fruit company.


This shift toward social responsibility is especially important for food companies. As I’ve argued for years, even if a food corporation might want to sell healthier foods or stop marketing to children, it can’t because it is bound by the legal requirement of prioritizing shareholders, which means maximizing profit. And profit too often means selling poor-quality foods, paying workers low wages or harming the environment.


Getting Big Food on board


Several food companies have decided to incorporate as legally recognized benefit corporations, including one recently bought out by Big Food. Plum Organics, which makes food products for children, was purchased by Campbell Soup Co. last year, making it the first B Corporation to be a wholly owned subsidiary of a publicly traded company. While Plum Organic has been a certified B Corp since 2008, the company took legal steps to become a benefit corporation in Delaware last year after the state passed legislation recognizing that status.


Plum CEO Neil Grimmer explained for Co.Exist the importance of the legal change, saying, “When these ideas become inscribed in your corporate bylaws, it becomes the compass of the company. Now more than ever that’s part of our charter.” The company is also helping Campbell get recommended as a good investment.


According to Grimmer, Campbell embraced the idea of Plum’s becoming a benefit corporation. That a leading food company not only tolerates but also embraces the benefit model signals potential for more positive change. With Big Food increasingly buying out organic companies — General Mills, for instance, is about to buy organic food company Annie’s — the benefit corporation could help prevent the potential diluting of values.


While Plum Organic’s mission is focused mainly on ingredients, other benefit corporations emphasize the importance of its workers. Given that food workers are often paid slave wages and otherwise exploited, could the benefit corporation be a path to improving working conditions? One company that thinks so is Greyston Bakery, which in 2012 became New York’s first benefit corporation.


Greyston, which also has B Corp certification, prides itself on its open hiring system, in which anyone who wants a job can get one, regardless of experience and despite any history of “homelessness, incarceration, substance abuse, welfare dependence, domestic violence or illiteracy.” All the company’s profits go to the Greyston Foundation, which operates several self-sufficiency programs in the company’s community of Yonkers, New York. But the bakery’s biggest claim to fame may be that it’s a supplier (30,000 pounds of brownies daily) for Ben and Jerry’s, another certified B Corp. Greyston scored an impressive 133 out of 200 on B Lab’s assessment. In a sign that B Lab’s questionnaire encourages improvement, Greyston increased its score by 35 percent between its 2011 and 2013 audits. In addition to creating good jobs, the bakery has installed solar panels and purchases sustainable cocoa and sugar.


Other food companies that have attained B Corp certification include the Better Bean Co., Revolution Foods, Numi Organic Tea, Nutiva, Guayaki and Happy Family (another baby food company). B Lab has certified 1,000 businesses in 33 countries. So far, most certified B Corporations are small. But with the growth of the organic and natural food industry surpassing conventional food’s, it could only be a matter of time before existing B Corps grow and big corporations start to realize the economic value of joining the movement.


Increasing the scope


Benefit corporations are held accountable mainly in the same way as traditional corporations — through their shareholders. But they also have additional reporting requirements.


“Benefit corporations have a higher level of transparency than any other business form because they must produce an annual benefit report made available to the public,” B Lab’s policy director, Erik Trojian told me.


B Corp certification, which must be renewed every two years, raises the accountability bar even more by providing a third-party assessment. (Companies must score at least 80 out of 200 possible points to get certified. Trojian said the typical corporation in the United States would score 35 to 40.)


But there is still a ways to go. B Lab’s assessment tool doesn’t cover certain important societal issues. I was disappointed to learn, for example, that it doesn’t assess companies’ marketing practices. As I’ve written, companies shouldn’t market to children because a child cannot understand how marketing works, making the practice exploitive. A food company designated as a benefit corporation could refuse to do so; the decision would certainly qualify as a material positive impact on society — one of the criteria for being a benefit corporation. Other important issues could include animal welfare, disclosure of ingredients (such as those hidden by euphemisms like “natural flavors”) and even lobbying that undermines democracy.


It remains to be seen if benefit corporation laws and private certifications such as B Corp will have broader positive effects on the food system. The growing interest in and support of big companies such as Campbell is a positive sign. Moreover, removing an important legal barrier to caring about more than just profit is a great first step.


Michele Simon is a public health lawyer, president of Eat Drink Politics, and author of “Appetite for Profit: How the Food Industry Undermines Our Health and How to Fight Back.”